kelly-cornettToday’s guest blogger is Kelly Cornett, MS, a McKing Consulting Corporation program coordinator for the Translation and Evaluation Team in the Physical Activity and Health Branch of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her work helps to develop and leverage user-friendly materials that promote physical activity, while supporting evaluation research, partnership development and product design.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pleased to share a new package of products developed by the Community Preventive Services Task Force, a CDC-appointed panel of public health and prevention experts. Called BE Active: Connecting Routes + Destinations, these built environment, or BE, resources can help public health professionals and community leaders promote and increase physical activity in their communities. The package includes a visual guide, implementation resource guide and real-world examples.

Combined built environment approaches increase physical activity by linking activity-friendly routes with everyday destinations. This means one or more interventions to improve pedestrian or bicycle transportation systems linked with one or more land use and community design interventions, such as a safe crossing from a neighborhood to a school or a shared-use path from a retail district to an office.

An activity-friendly route is a direct and convenient connection with everyday destinations that offers physical protection from cars and makes it easy to cross the street. Everyday destinations are places to which people can travel by walking, bicycling or taking public transit. These can include grocery stores, schools, worksites, libraries, parks, restaurants, cultural and natural landmarks and healthcare facilities.

Working with communities to build more activity-friendly environments is important because too few Americans get the recommended amount of physical activity. Only about one in five US adults and about one in five high school students meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Not getting enough physical activity contributes to an increased risk of early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.

Physical activity can reduce the risk of at least 20 chronic diseases and provide effective treatment for many of these conditions. Modifying the built environment makes it easier for people to walk, bike, run or roll for transportation; leisure; and health. Improving and connecting routes and destinations can make the physically active choice the easy choice. For example, sidewalks or paths between stores and public transportation can be designed and maintained to be well-connected, safe and attractive.

Students and city officials in Weslaco, TX, paint a sidewalk between the school and the neighborhood. Photo: Mark Fenton, www.markfenton.com

Students and city officials in Weslaco, TX, paint a sidewalk between the school and the neighborhood. Photo: Mark Fenton, www.markfenton.com

CDC is working with states and communities to improve the built environment as part of Active People, Healthy Nation – Creating an Active America, TogetherSM. This initiative aims to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027 to improve their overall health and quality of life and to reduce healthcare costs. Public health cannot do this work alone. Putting this new recommendation into action requires partnerships across agencies, departments and sectors working together to coordinate activities and initiatives.

For example, students, school officials and the city public works department in Weslaco, Texas, partnered to paint a new crosswalk to connect the school to the community and the surrounding neighborhood as a new pathway for active commuting. Similarly, but at a higher scale of investment and complexity, the city of Colby, Kansas, constructed a 2.2-mile walking trail to connect a school, the local community college and a popular aquatic facility with a major road in the area as part of a larger initiative to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Being physically active is one of the most important steps that Americans can take to improve their health. Enhancing or creating walkable communities can help make physical activity safe and easy for people of all ages and abilities. The BE Active package provides important resources to help public health professionals and community leaders increase physical activity in their communities. Please share these new products with your colleagues in public health, transportation, community planning and beyond.