Today the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance — a nonprofit including 25 organizational partners including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — updated the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, a strategy aimed at fulfilling the alliance’s vision that “one day, all Americans will be physically active, and they will live, work and play in environments that encourage and support regular physical activity.”

APHA’s Physical Activity Section Chair Dan Bornstein, PhD, assistant professor at The Citadel, was in attendance for both the plan’s creation in 2010 and today’s update at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Public Health Newswire talked to Bornstein about the significance of the plan and the growth of his Section, which was created as a Special Primary Interest Group in 2009.

Dan Bornstein, PhD, is an assistant professor at The Citadel and chair of APHA's Physical Activity Section. Photo by Dan Bornstein

Dan Bornstein, PhD, is an assistant professor at The Citadel and chair of APHA’s Physical Activity Section. Photo by Dan Bornstein

The updated National Physical Activity Plan is aimed at a wide audience — including health care, education, business, transportation and media. How is this plan beneficial for public health? 

At its core, the National Physical Activity Plan is about public health. The Background Section of the NPAP states that “its ultimate purpose is to improve health, prevent disease and disability, and enhance quality of life.” Hence the NPAP benefits public health overall in that it uses physical activity as the means for addressing many of the cross-cutting problems, such as minimizing health disparities and improving social justice, which are of such great concern to the public health field.

In an effort to address these cross-cutting problems, the NPAP is organized around nine societal sectors, including: business and industry; community recreation, fitness and parks; education; faith-aased settings; health care; mass media; public health; sport; and transportation, land use and community design. Within the public health sector, five high-level strategies have been identified:

  • developing a competent workforce;
  • building partnerships;
  • developing policy and advocacy efforts;
  • improving surveillance and evaluation of programs;
  • disseminating tools and resources; and
  • providing funding and resources.

Following each strategy are a series of tactics which provide actionable steps to be taken in order to successfully address the strategy.

Lastly, much like other sub-disciplines of public health, the NPAP addresses policy, systems, and environmental change, and therefore is targeting the audience of policy makers and policy advocates. The NPAP is designed to support the Federal Physical Activity Guidelines. The Guidelines provide recommendations for the types and amounts of physical activity Americans should regularly achieve. The NPAP provides recommendations on how to create the policies, systems, and environments that will allow more Americans to realize those Guidelines.

What changes have we seen since 2010 — not only with the standards but with physical activity in our nation?

Unfortunately, since 2010 the physical activity landscape is more the same than it is different. That is to say, the majority of American adults still fail to meet the federal guideline of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, and the vast majority of American youth and adolescents fail to meet the 300 minutes per week guideline. With that said, some progress has been made. Using the NPAP as a model, some states, like West Virginia, have developed state-level physical activity plans, and some municipalities, like San Antonio, have developed municipal-level plans. Given that states and municipalities know their regions best, using the NPAP as a framework for more localized plans makes sense. Hopefully, the new version of the NPAP spawns further development of state and local plans.

One aspect of the landscape that is beginning to change is in the policy advocacy area. Historically, much of the policy advocacy for physical activity has been focused on the health benefits of increasing population levels of physical activity. However, more recently, physical activity policy advocates have begun to demonstrate how increasing physical activity levels can provide societal benefits not related to health. For example, advocates for more walkable, bikeable, and rollable communities have addressed the benefits of easing traffic congestion, improving retail sales, and improving home values. Similarly, those advocating for more physical activity in schools talk about the benefits of physical activity on social behavior and learning capacity of students. Physical activity policy advocates demonstrating outcomes from increased physical activity that are not necessarily health-related, but are of meaning to the policymaker, is an important step forward.

APHA’s Physical Activity Section has grown rapidly in less than a decade. Tell us about your Section and how your diverse membership works to make a more physically active America?

The physical activity Section has been most fortunate to have experienced rapid growth. This growth is the result of the extraordinary Section leadership that preceded me and the increasing recognition of the importance of physical activity to public health. Our members, like many APHA Sections and SPIGs, represent a broad spectrum of public health researchers and practitioners, each working independently to increase physical activity across the population. Collectively, we have affected change through the development and submission of APHA policy statements, a robust program at the annual meeting, and on-going efforts to infuse more physical activity into the APHA annual meeting (which we’re delighted to see more and more of each year), and other professional meetings and conferences.

Even with these efforts, we have also realized that more must be done. As a result, we’re also now forging partnerships with other large, health-based nonprofit organizations to develop policy briefs for our successfully submitted policy statements. It is our hope that these policy briefs will allow the policy statements to “come to life,” being utilized on the front lines of policy advocacy. Additionally, we’re actively partnering with other APHA Sections to develop and deliver a series of joint-sponsored webinars in an effort to break down some the silos we have in our field. Lastly, we’ve outlined an aggressive communications plan that aims to utilize social media to highlight the great accomplishments of our members.

It is through these existing, emerging, and not-yet discovered efforts that we hope to bend the curve of physical inactivity prevalence towards zero, and improve the health of our nation.