Programs and Promotions: Approaches by 25 Active Living by Design Partnerships

Physical activity programs and promotions can be resource intensive and have limited impact but can increase physical activity by connecting people to their environments, according to this evaluation of such activities by the Active Living by Design (ALbD) community partnerships.

The ALbD initiative funded 25 community partnerships across the U.S. from 2003-2008; these partnerships were charged with using five “community action” strategies —including physical activity programs and promotions—to change environments and policies to make it easier for people to lead active daily lives. Part of a three-year cross-site evaluation started in Year Three of ALbD funding, this paper examines the use of promotions and physical activity programs, including the challenges, successes, and lessons learned.

Key Findings:

  • All 25 community partnerships used physical activity programs and promotions, such as, community walking and biking programs, school and worksite programs and promotions, audience-centered communications, media coverage efforts, and other activities, (e.g., conferences, races, and fairs.)
  • New programs to change behavior were expensive, difficult to sustain, and most effective when they were not short-term; thus, such programs were most successful when led by organizations with stable funding and volunteer support beyond ALbD.
  • Participation was a hurdle. Short-term incentives worked but were hard to maintain; motivating incentives intrinsic to an activity, such as social rewards, should be incorporated into program planning.
  • Other significant hurdles included crime and violence concerns (which the partnerships felt ill-equipped to deal with), the lack of local media in urban communities which hindered effective coverage, and the difficulties of working with schools.

Despite the challenges, activity programs and promotions did enhance the success of other ALbD strategies: “If you build it, let them know about it, and offer programming, then they will come back again and again.”