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Staying active is one of the most important ways to maintain good health. Among active Americans, walking and biking are some of the most popular recreations because they are easiest to adapt to the hectic routines of daily life. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), communities that support walking and biking see higher rates of physical activity among their populations.

For communities seeking to improve the built environment to promote access to safe and convenient places for physical activity for people of all ages and abilities, the CDC developed a new Active Communities Tool (ACT) that municipal public health, planning and transportation leaders can use to determine effective changes that can be made.

Kelly Evenson Headshot
Dr. Kelly Evenson

The ACT was developed by the CDC and partner groups, which included Kelly Evenson, PhD, research fellow at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health; Anna Porter, PhD, previously a postdoctoral fellow at the Gillings School and now an assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi; and colleagues at Healthy Places by Design and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors.

It features modules to address specific areas for action or engagement within a community in order to encourage more physical activity. Examples include street pattern design and connectivity, pedestrian infrastructure, bicycle infrastructure, public transit infrastructure and access, and access to parks and recreational facilities. The ACT also provides a planning guide to help community team leaders collaborate across sectors to create actionable improvement strategies.

“The tool is designed to help communities identify built environment barriers or ‘areas for action’ to help better facilitate physical activity,” Evenson explained. “For example, are there standards established for sidewalk widths? Are maintenance, repair and upgrade of existing parks and recreation facilities facilitated through a plan or policy? Based on answers to questions like these, communities can identify places that could be improved to facilitate physical activity.”

The team at the CDC pilot tested the ACT among several municipalities across America, including Bloomfield, Connecticut; the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii; Des Moines, Iowa; Duluth, Minnesota; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Tacoma, Washington. Use of the tool allowed many of the testers to create new, multi-disciplinary partnerships and learn more about how aspects of the built environment and policy affected physical activity in their communities.

Through testing, the CDC team learned that the ACT was most impactful at the municipal level, as opposed to the city or county level, and that it allowed planners to choose specific modules to complete based on which interventions they found most appropriate for their community.

The tool and companion Action Planning Guide are available for use by the public now.

Read the full report on the development of the Active Communities Tool.

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