An Active Living Network Shows How Community Design Can Promote Health and Physical Activity

Field of Work: Promoting health through physical activity.

Problem Synopsis: When this project began in 2002, the problems of overweight and obesity had been spreading throughout communities in the United States. Only 54.6 percent of American adults met the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week. Many public health researchers believe that the most effective ways to increase daily physical activity for the greatest number of people over the long term are those that change the built environment to make communities more walkable, bikeable and otherwise more physical-activity friendly. But the complex task of changing the built environment—the design and land-use policies and practices of a community—requires input from an array of disciplines, including urban planning, design, transportation, parks and recreation, local government and public health.

Synopsis of the Work: Between 2001 and 2007, the Active Living Network engaged with experts from the diverse disciplines active in community design. The Active Living Network provided them with information about how community design can promote health and physical activity, and encouraged them to communicate with each other. The network is part of a suite of RWJF Active Living programs, launched in 2002, that collaborate to increase physical activity through community design, public policies and communications.

Key Results

  • The Active Living Network created and nurtured a network of professionals, advocates and organizations to support and promote the creation of active, healthy communities. Some 70 organizations—from such diverse disciplines as planning, design, transportation, parks and recreation, local government and public health—had signed on as network partners as of December 2007.
  • Program staff developed the Active Living Network website and developed tools and resources such as communications toolkits and the Active Living Storybank, a searchable database of projects, programs and other initiatives creating healthy communities. The website had 456 resources and 174 stories (as of December 2007). The average number of monthly visitors in 2007 was 3,337.