The 2017 United States Report Card on Walking and Walkable Communities: A Foundation for Assessing Future Progress

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By National Physical Activity Plan Alliance

Walking is a popular and accessible form of physical activity for many Americans. The latest research regarding the health benefits, the 2015 Surgeon General’s Call to Action, and recent efforts by government/private organizations indicate an increased focus on walking. Across the public health field, efforts are underway to change individual behavior and community culture in order to get Americans walking!  But, without a national baseline, it can be difficult to assess the impact of these efforts. The 2017 United States Report Card on Walking and Walkable Communities serves to establish this baseline and identify opportunities for growth. Released earlier this fall by the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance (NPAPA), the Report Card is the first comprehensive national assessment of walking and walkability in the United States. It measures the extent to which individuals and communities in the United States meet selected standards related to walking. Grades reflect national-level performance, not that of states or local municipalities. Initial grades indicate we’ve got some improvements to make!

Key Walking Factors and the 2017 Grades

A panel of leading physical activity experts established grading criteria, identified appropriate data sources, and assigned final grades. The Report Card assesses nine key areas representing both the individual- and community-level factors.

Individual:

  • Adult Walking Behavior [Grade C] – Adult walking behavior earned the highest grade of the Report Card. The National Health Interview Survey 2015 data indicates that 63.9 percent of adults report walking for transportation or leisure in at least one bout of 10 minutes or more in the preceding 7 days.
  • Children and Youth Walking Behavior [Grade F]Less than 30 percent of children and youth walk to and from school on a regular basis. In fact, only 11.7 percent of students usually walk to school and only 15 percent usually walk home, as reported by parents.

Community:

  • Pedestrian Infrastructure [Grade F] – Pedestrian infrastructure represents the sidewalks, walking trails, and other infrastructure that supports safe and enjoyable walking. The Report Card grades this factor at an F due to the fact that less than 30 percent of states (n = 5) meet the standard of $5.26 per capita funding for biking and walking projects.
  • Safety [Grade F] – Less than 30 percent of states (n = 4) had fewer than 0.75 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
  • Pedestrian Policies [Grade D] – Less than half of states (n = 21) meet the standard of at least a score of 20 on the 30-point scale of Complete Streets Policies developed by the Safe Routes To School 2016 State Report Cards.
  • Institutional Policies [Grade F] – Institutional policies were assessed by the presence of established Safe Routes to School funding/policies. Less than 30 percent of states (n = 10) have state legislation and appropriations for a Safe Routes to School Program.
  • Public Transportation [Grade F] – Less than 30 percent of states (n = 7) have a public transportation commute share greater than the standard of 6 percent, as reported by the American Community Survey.
  • Walkable Neighborhoods [Grade D] – Walkable neighborhoods are designed to support walking for transportation, work, recreation, and planned exercise. Only 32 percent of states (n = 16) meet the standard of ≥ 30 percent of residents living in a highly walkable neighborhood.
  • Walking Programs [Grade I] – The Report Card’s only incomplete grade goes to Walking Programs. Currently no database or surveillance system monitors community walking programs on a national basis in the U.S.

Key Take-Aways – It’s not so grim!

Although the grades are low, the Report Card can serve a very important purpose for future public health efforts. “Report cards can facilitate change,” says Amy Eyler, National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) Walking and Walkability Committee member. The grades can increase awareness of the current landscape for people inside and outside the public health field, but also identify areas for improvement. The difficulty in establishing grades for select factors also detects gaps in existing data sources and calls for improvements in walking-related surveillance measures. “Not only can we do better within each of the factors, but we have the opportunity to create better, consistent surveillance and measurement of the factors so we can evidence change,” concludes Eyler.

Moving Forward – What can we do to improve?

Reviewing the latest walking related grades may leave you asking, what is it that I can do to improve walking in my community?  How can America grade better in the future?  In reflecting on the 2017 grades, the NPAPA was faced with these same questions and sought to find answers. Later this year, the Alliance will release a companion report, which details specific recommendations that individuals and organizations, across sectors, can take to improve walking in their communities across the nation. To stay up to date on the latest information from the NPAPA, including the release of additional walking and walkability recommendations, sign up to receive the monthly NPAPA e-newsletter.

To learn more about the 2017 United States Report Card on Walking and Walkable Communities or the NPAP, visit the NPAPA website or connect with the NPAPA on social media through Facebook or Twitter.

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Disclaimer: The opinions, findings and conclusions expressed by authors of this blog post are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the opinion, views or policies of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

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