The National Physical Activity Plan – A Roadmap for Community Change


By Kate Olscamp, Communications Coordinator with the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance

“The world needs to get serious about physical activity,” proclaim Pamela Das and Richard Horton in The Lancet’s most recent series on Physical Activity. For decades we have been engineering physical activity out of our everyday lives. Recent global estimates suggest that 5 million deaths each year can be attributed to not meeting physical activity recommendations.  Although the sedentary nature of modern society poses a significant threat to the future of our health, there is a great deal being done to turn the tide.

Compelling Change: The National Physical Activity Guidelines

In 2008 the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took a major step towards establishing physical activity as a national public health priority with the release of the first federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines provide detailed recommendations on the types (mode and intensity) and amounts (frequency and duration) of physical activity that individuals should perform. The guidelines include specific information for youth, adults, older adults and other demographic groups. These recommendations have been used to guide the efforts of public health professionals, policy makers, educators and the general public throughout the last decade.

With a continued focus on physical activity as a prevention mechanism for many chronic diseases, and foundation in the latest and most accurate science, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is working to develop an updated set of guidelines, expected for release in 2018. The establishment of a new advisory committee earlier this year is the first step in that process. These nationally recognized experts will review current scientific evidence, deliberate in public meetings, and submit a comprehensive advisory report to HHS. The public is invited to be a part of this process through participation in both meetings and comments.

A Roadmap for Action: The National Physical Activity Plan

Although the Physical Activity Guidelines provide an important foundation for increasing physical activity among Americans, the Guidelines alone are not enough to change individuals’ health behaviors. In an effort to encourage the environmental, cultural, and policy changes necessary to help more Americans realize the recommendations outlined in the Guidelines, representatives of leading health organizations and over 300 physical activity experts worked collaboratively to produce the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP). Initially released in 2010, and updated in April 2016, the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan outlines a comprehensive strategy for changing America’s communities in ways that will help many more people meet the Physical Activity Guidelines.

The NPAP includes overarching priorities and numerous evidence-based strategies and tactics. It is further organized around nine societal sectors, including:

  • Business and Industry
  • Community, Recreation, Fitness, and Parks
  • Education
  • Faith-Based Settings
  • Healthcare
  • Mass Media
  • Public Health
  • Sport
  • Transportation, Land Use, and Community Design

In order to ensure the continued development and success of the NPAP, a non-profit coalition of national organizations was established. Governed by a board of directors, the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance (NPAPA) works to support the implementation of the NPAP’s strategies and tactics and expand awareness of the plan among policy makers and stakeholders. The NPAPA’s dedication to the continued promotion of physical activity guided by a comprehensive, evidence-based strategic plan aligns well with the commitment to regular evaluation and revision of the plan itself.

Where Do I Fit In?

Grounded in the socio-ecological model, the NPAP acts as a roadmap for the necessary community changes which will help facilitate personal behavior change. The plan supports the vision that “One day, all Americans will be physically active, and they will live, work and play in environments that encourage and support regular physical activity.” This vision and these community changes are not possible without the passion and dedication of many individuals and organizations. These efforts take place at the national, state, local, and institutional levels. It is critical that efforts at all levels are recognized and embraced in the effort to create cultural change. To quote Joan Benoit Samuelson, from the 2016 NPAP Launch Event, “Who is responsible for making physical activity a national mindset? I am and you are!”

To learn more about the National Physical Activity Plan and the ways that you can support these vital community changes, visit the website or connect with the NPAP Alliance on social media through Facebook or Twitter.

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