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From Evidence to Practice: Highlights from Active Living Research’s First Decade

January 7, 2014

alr-logo-clr_0_0It’s hard to believe that Active Living Research (ALR) has passed its 10-year anniversary. What an amazing journey we have had—one enriched with people so passionate about creating places where kids and adults are better able to walk, bike, and play so that they can live longer and healthier lives. These people include the 200+ researchers who have received ALR grants, the policymakers and practitioners who shape our streets, parks, schools, and neighborhoods, and the advocates who tirelessly fight for more physical activity across the nation.

Between 2001 and 2011, ALR experienced two major phases. In the first phase, ALR-1, the program built a multidisciplinary field of researchers from urban planning, education, public health, transportation, sociology, and leisure studies, among others, to study the effects of environmental factors and policies on physical activity among all Americans. In 2007, ALR’s mission shifted to focus on physical activity among children, to align with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) then-new goal of reversing the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. This new phase of ALR (ALR-2) focused on building a research field and evidence base to help reduce childhood obesity, and to accelerate the use of this evidence in informing policy and practice.

Below are highlights from two new papers in the AJPM by Barker et al. and Sallis et al., which report on progress across the 10 years:

  • ALR built a diverse and productive cadre of grantees representing 31 different disciplines.
  • ALR placed a lot of value on supporting the career development of younger, up-and-coming researchers and researchers from historically underrepresented backgrounds. As a result, more than a quarter of grantees were in the early stage of their careers, and 39% of these were people of color.
  • 30 studies focused specifically on African American, Latino, or lower-income groups, which are at highest risk of obesity.
  • Grantees have been quite prolific and reported a total of 309 publications as of 2011, and leveraged $127 million in additional research funds from other agencies.

The biggest change between ALR-1 and ALR-2 was an intentional strategy to expand and speed-up the use of research in informing policy. ALR published a total of 20 research briefs and syntheses on schools, parks and recreation, transportation, disparities, and the economic benefits of walkable communities. A revamped more user-friendly website, a bi-monthly e-newsletter, the Move! Blog, webinars, Facebook and Twitter pages, and research translation grants greatly increased the amount and frequency of evidence distributed.

Grantees have been very active in sharing their research with policymakers, advocates, and practitioners, with 41% of grantees reporting communication with an end-user during 2010. Across the 10 years, there were 62 cases of evidence informing policy or practice, with 50% of these resulting in an actual policy or practice change, mainly at the local level.

The program itself also made some significant policy impacts, such as helping shape the National Physical Activity Plan, and supporting initiatives in California and Virginia to mandate minimum minutes of physical activity in schools.

It’s almost 2015, RWJF’s target date for reversing childhood obesity. ALR is honored to have helped move the country toward this goal. But much work remains to be done, so we ask you to help us continue communicating the best state-of-the-science strategies for reducing childhood obesity as broadly as possible.

— Debbie Lou, PhD

Debbie Lou, PhD, (dlou@ucsd.edu) is the Program Analyst with Active Living Research, where she translates and disseminates evidence on how policies and environments can promote physical activity. Debbie has a background in sociology with a focus on social justice issues.

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