Policy Corner: Get Your Town Fit and Healthy

Coursing through the veins of the National Physical Activity Plan is a spirit that calls to mind the mantra “think globally; act locally.” Springing from the environmental movement, this notion reflects the necessity that shared aspirations be enacted as appropriate to each application. (See also familiar disclaimers such as “Your results may vary,” “Some settling may occur” and “Ask your doctor if Blarfinex™ is right for you.”)

The Plan is not a prescription to be applied topically to each city, neighborhood or organization, but rather “a comprehensive set of policies, programs and initiatives that aim to increase physical activity in all segments of the American population.” Implementation teams are at work across the spectrum of sectors, breathing life into strategies and tactics identified in the broadly collaborative planning process. Consistently in mind is the notion of adjusting to realities and opportunities as they arise, bringing practicality and nuance to what was conceived in planning.

The ACSM American Fitness Index™ offers an example of a sophisticated program to help communities better support active, healthy lifestyles. The AFI Technical Assistance Program (TAP) builds upon the annual AFI data report, which provides a health status snapshot of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

Working with selected communities (originally, Indianapolis and Oklahoma City, then expanding to ten communities through 2013), TAP seeks to identify actionable areas with the best evidence for improving health and fitness at the community level. The goal is not to recreate the wheel, but rather to coordinate and streamline efforts already under way. Steps include:
  • Interviews with community advocates and experts
  • Working with a community team to create a five-year strategic plan
  • Public evaluation and comment
  • Implementation and evaluation, with help from ACSM experts
Quite a process, isn’t it? TAP is designed to get results and – characteristic of ACSM – is evidence-based and accountable. A grant from the WellPoint Foundation helps make it possible.

At the other end of the scale, but fully in keeping with the spirit of the National Physical Activity Plan, are efforts that are transforming communities in myriad ways. From advocating for pocket parks to sharing information on workplace wellness, people are making the Plan a reality by creating a national culture that supports physically active lifestyles. While every community might benefit from a comprehensive approach to planning and implementation like the AFI Technical Assistance Program, there is incalculable, cumulative benefit in the thousands of programs and projects that Americans are putting into place to foster more physically active communities.

Let’s learn from the TAP and other programs, keeping our eyes open for the efforts of any size that can add up to real change. The National Physical Activity Plan offers the big picture; it’s up to us to make it real at a level that affects everyone in the U.S.