Measuring Progress: Evaluating the National Physical Activity Plan


How do you measure something as far reaching as a national plan to get an entire population to be more physically active? Is the answer as simple as measuring physical activity across representative samples of the population to document how many Americans are or are not meeting federal Physical Activity Guidelines? Certainly the levels of physical activity among certain populations are logical outcomes to measure, and ones we are ultimately most interested in. But the answer is more complex – one that architects of the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) recognize as being critical to its overall success.

The NPAP was designed with the purpose of being actionable. From lawmaker or lobbyist to teacher or parent, the NPAP offers suggestions on how action can be taken to change the environments in which we work, live, learn, play, and commute, so they all offer easy access to physical activity. It may not be possible to evaluate the actions taken by every individual trying to advance the initiatives of the NPAP, but it is possible to measure outcomes that demonstrate the impact the NPAP is having, or not having, at national, state, and local levels. In order to determine the NPAP’s impact, there is now a three-pronged evaluation effort underway.

1) At the national level, quarterly reports generated by sector-specific teams charged with implementing select recommendations from the NPAP’s societal sectors will be collected to determine: Progress and barriers for each sector and for the NPAP overall; Products, programs, practice/policy changes, and media generated by the NPAP; and the level of collaboration between and among the different sectors of the NPAP.

2) Case studies of several states will be conducted to determine the extent to which the NPAP is impacting state physical activity plans, or related plans. Specifically, interviews will be conducted with key state-level representatives to determine awareness of gaps, barriers, and factors that contribute to knowledge transfer of the NPAP between national, state, and local levels, and to determine if and how the NPAP is being used within the state.

3) Additionally at state and local levels, members of the National Society of Physical Activity Practitioners in Public Health (NSPAPPH) are being surveyed to determine their opinions regarding the NPAP and motivations to use it, and changes to State plans as a result of the NPAP.

The NPAP evaluation effort is being spearheaded by the Physical Activity Policy Research Network within the Prevention Research Center at Washington University – St. Louis, with additional involvement from the Prevention Research Centers at UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of South Carolina.

How do you measure you or your organization measure your progress in improving health through physical activity?