History of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Active Living Research Program

Origins and Strategy

This paper is the introduction to a supplemental issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, entitled Active Living Research: A Six Year Report. The Active Living Research (ALR) program, launched in 2001, is a funding initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) aimed at increasing physical activity in the United States. The ALR is part of a larger national initiative launched by RWJF to reverse the rise in childhood obesity by 2015. The introduction explains origins and strategies of the ALR, some of the program's design and key elements, and summarizes some key lessons learned from ALR and related programs.

The ALR program was developed in 1999, at the end of a decade that showed little improvement in the number of Americans getting recommended levels of physical activity. Thus, in 1999–2000, there was a strong need for developing interventions to support health-behavior changes on a population level; previous RWJF-funded initiatives to decrease tobacco use had shown that public policy and environmental changes were more successful than interventions requiring active decision-making by individuals. RWJF led this charge because it was viewed as "having the unique capacity to combine a research program with action and advocacy initiatives." However, the NIH and the CDC were important collaborators in ALR.

Within a year of ALR's funding, several related initiatives were launched including the Active Living Network, the Active Living Resource Center, Active Living by Design, and others. The aim of all these programs was finding policy- and environmental-level solutions to help Americans put activity back into everyday life. The ALR and its related programs were supported by common foundations such as placing a high importance on communicating findings and fostering communication among multiple levels of health practitioners, the public, and policy-makers; funding research that supports policy actions; emphasizing the translation of research into policy and practice; and ensuring that accountability and evaluation are key components of all programs. When the ALR was refunded in 2007, it was refocused to include stronger emphasis on nutritional policies, and directly targeting children at high risk for obesity. The foundational research that helped spur these changes, as well as the progress made by the ALR, are described in the papers and commentaries contained in the supplement.