Policy in Action: Getting Your Town Fit and Healthy


We who teach know that real education involves putting ideas into action. A science lesson hits home when textbook reactions are tested in the lab. Rote rules of grammar become the sinews of real writing. Similarly, we who advocate physical activity for health can do real and lasting good when we go beyond preaching healthy lifestyles to helping them become reality.

Examples abound, from teachers scheduling classroom physical activity breaks to neighbors pitching in to create pocket parks where they are most needed. More employers are starting workplace wellness programs and toting up gains in productivity, morale and cost savings. Friends are exercising together for support and motivation.

Such efforts are happening community-wide, as well. The ACSM American Fitness Index, valued as an assessment tool that gauges the health status of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, now is helping communities bring about changes that will make a substantive difference in their residents’ health and wellness.

The AFI Technical Assistance Program (TAP) builds upon the annual AFI data report. Working with selected communities (originally, Indianapolis and Oklahoma City, then expanding to ten through 2013), TAP seeks to identify actionable areas with the best evidence for improving health and fitness at the community level. The goal is not to recreate the wheel, but rather to coordinate and streamline efforts already underway. Steps include:

  • Interviews with community advocates and experts
  • Working with a community team to create a five-year strategic plan
  • Public evaluation and comment
  • Implementation and evaluation, with help from ACSM experts

Quite a process, isn’t it? TAP is designed to get results and, importantly, is evidence-based and accountable. A grant from the WellPoint Foundation helps make it possible.

While every community may benefit from a comprehensive approach to planning and implementation like the AFI Technical Assistance Program, there is incalculable, cumulative benefit in the thousands of programs and projects that Americans are putting into place to foster more physically active communities.

Let’s learn from the TAP and other programs, keeping our eyes open for the efforts of any size that can add up to real change. The National Physical Activity Plan and the ACSM American Fitness Index offer the big picture; it’s up to us to make it real at a level that affects everyone in the US.

What efforts are underway in your community to improve opportunities for health and wellness?

What’s being done to address gaps identified in the American Fitness Index?