Physical Activity/Community

Obesity Advocacy Glossary

Increased Access to Safe and Attractive Places for Physical Activity

Action steps to increase access to safe and attractive places for physical activity in the community include:

  1. Build, maintain and enhance infrastructure for opportunities for safe indoor and outdoor physical activity.
    Children are less likely to engage in recreational physical activity if parks or playgrounds are unavailable, in disrepair, or are not accessible by safe routes. Communities should make it a priority that there are safe and developmentally appropriate physical activity opportunities for all children (e.g. playgrounds, parks, community pools, etc). Efforts should be made to regularly maintain these sites and keep them safe (e.g. ensure appropriate lighting, landscaping, equipment is in good repair, adequate policing, etc). In many communities, there are opportunities to utilize vacant land/lots, or rehabilitate blighted areas.
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  3. Improve access to recreational facilities by establishing joint-use agreements, partnering with centers to extend hours, providing public transportation, and exploring incentives to promote affordable and free physical activity opportunities.
    School and local government officials can develop joint-use agreements that allow community members to use school-owned recreation facilities during non-school hours. In turn, communities can offer facilities to schools, such as swimming pools. In addition, communities can partner with private recreational centers (gyms, dance studios, churches with gym facilities, etc) to encourage extended hours and discounted rates or occasional free classes for children and families.
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  5. Adopt community policing strategies to improve safety and security of community especially areas where children can be physically active.Communities should explore a variety of community policing strategies such as increased police presence and neighborhood watch. In addition, they should consider changes to the infrastructure. For example, they can ensure safe, attractive walking environments by providing appropriate lighting, properly groomed landscaping, building design features that promote eyes on the street (such as front porches and active storefronts with windows overlooking sidewalks), and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and streets.

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  7. Improve opportunities for safe physical activity for pedestrians and bicyclists

    Research suggests that children in neighborhoods with sidewalks and controlled intersections were more physically active than those children in neighborhoods with road hazards and unsafe intersections. Studies also indicate that simply adding and improving bicycle lanes, traffic signals, sidewalks and crosswalks can increase the number of children walking or bicycling to school and/or getting recreational physical activity. In order to increase opportunities for safe physical activity for pedestrians and bicyclists, communities can:

    • Enhance traffic safety by planning, building, and/or retrofitting streets to reduce vehicle speeds, accommodate bicyclists, and improve walking environment (e.g. complete streets, separate bike lines, higher sidewalk curbs, raised medians, streetscaping, well timed traffic lights and street lights);
    • Expand trails and connections;
    • Plan, build, and maintain a network of sidewalks and street crossings that connect schools, parks, and other destinations;
    • Improve access to bicycles, helmets, and related equipment for lower income families through subsidies or repair programs.

    Recommended by:
    • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF): Action Strategies Toolkit - A Guide for Local And State Leaders Working to Create Healthy Communities And Prevent Childhood Obesity

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  8. Consider strategies to set minimum play space, physical equipment, and duration of play in preschool, after-school, and child care programs.

    Child-care facilities provide a valuable opportunity to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in children. Communities can create policies that require new childcare facilities have adequate space for physical activity.

    Recommended by: Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report: Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity

    For more information: Healthy Eating Research: Promoting Good Nutrition and Physical Activity in Child-Care Settings

  9. Create and promote youth athletic leagues and increase access to fields, with special emphasis on income and gender equity.
    Children and adults alike benefit from programs and facilities that promote active play and recreation. Communities can make concerted efforts to promote affordable athletic leagues for all ages regardless of gender.

  10. Recommended by: Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report: Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity


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Increase Physical Activity

Action steps to increase physical activity in the community include:

  1. Encourage walking and bicycling through improvements in the built environment.

    Walking and bicycling, whether for transportation or recreation, are important sources of physical activity for children as well as adults. The built environment has a significant effect on walking and bicycling. Deficiencies in walking and bicycling infrastructure and streets designed for vehicles create barriers to walking and bicycling. Community residents are less likely to walk or bicycle for transportation or recreation if streets do not include sidewalks and safe crossings or destinations are too far apart. Communities can support active transportation by:

      • Adopting zoning codes supporting higher-density and mixed-use development around neighborhood centers, transit stations, community centers with schools, parks, and retail within walking distance of housing;
      • Increasing destinations within walking and bicycling distance from residential and worksite settings;
      • Planning, building, and maintaining a network of sidewalks and street crossings that connect schools, parks, and other destinations; and/or
      • Retrofitting existing roads or integrate improvements as new roads are designed.

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  2. Promote increased transit use through reduced fares for children, families, and students, and improved service to schools, parks, recreation centers, and other family destinations.

    Building physical activity into daily routines makes itautomatic by making the active choice the default choice.  People who take public transportation are more likely to incorporate walking into their day. Communities can explore ways to increase public transportation use by improving service to family destinations and offering fare specials for families and/or children.

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  3. Support programs (e.g. Safe Routes to Schools) to increase the number of children safely walking and bicycling to school.

    Walking and/or biking to and from school has been demonstrated to increase physical activity among children. Communities should support the creation of programs like Safe Routes to School, Walk to School, Walking School Bus, etc that facilitate children walking or biking to school.


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  4. Create incentives for remote parking and/or disincentives for nearby parking and drop-off zones at schools, public facilities, shopping malls, and other destinations.
    Building physical activity into daily routines makes physical activity automatic by making the active choice the default choice. By discouraging easy drop-off zones and/or promoting remote parking, community residents will increase their daily physical activity through purposeful walking.

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  5. Improve stairway access and appeal, especially in places frequented by children.
    Taking the stairs is one way to be more physically active. At work, employees are often presented with a choice between taking the stairs and taking an elevator or escalator. Choosing the stairs instead of the elevator is a quick way for people to add physical activity to their day.

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