This paper provides an overview of the mission and activities of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Active Living Research (ALR) program. Until RWJF launched the ALR in 2001, the evidence base supporting the idea that the built environment and policy factors were related to physical activity levels, and thus to obesity and other chronic diseases, was weak.
The mission of the $12.5-million funding initiative was threefold: to build an evidence base elucidating links between environmental and policy correlates and determinants of physical activity; to build the capacity of researchers to collaborate in order to understand these links; and to inform and facilitate policy and environmental changes to promote active living. A research agenda was developed to elaborate each of these elements of the ALR program; ultimately, 121 grants were funded, including dissertations. Research undertaken in community settings received the most funding, followed by research done in school settings. About 45 percent of the studies were correlative in design, but 13 intervention studies also were funded. Ideally, this ratio will shift as the field matures and the base of evidence linking policies to changes in physical activities grows.
This paper also describes some ways in which the renewal phase of the ALR program will be different from the first six years. For example, there will be greater emphasis on youth aged 3–18 at high risk for obesity. There also will be stronger emphasis on research with a high likelihood of stimulating policies and physical activities. Lastly, attracting researchers from a diversity of backgrounds will be of paramount importance. These foci will help the ALR program continue the important work of the past six years, and further streamline the program's commitment to research that results in real-world changes in health behaviors.