Background on Environment & Policy
What are environment and policy strategies?
- Environment and policy interventions help create healthy places and practices to support healthy community members.
- Environmental interventions are designed to change structures and physical surroundings in order to influence individuals’ capacity to make healthy choices that can impact their own health or the health of those around them.
- Policy interventions are laws or regulations that are put in place to achieve a goal, including organizational policies or public policies at the local, state or national levels. Policies are an important way to focus on the economic, environmental, and social factors that serve to create and or enable health problems to exist as opposed to focusing only on the individual choices in lifestyle related to physical activity.
- Environment and policy interventions are intended to improve behaviors and environments in order to address the health benefits of physical activity. Environment and policy interventions can include:
- Policies that support environmental changes in public places (e.g., sidewalks and street lighting)
- Policies to modify individuals’ lifestyle patterns by increasing access to resources (e.g., building trails and parks)
Why are environment and policy strategies useful?
- They have the potential to reach all community members and create community changes that last much longer than most other types of interventions. It is believed that changes in environments and policies are critical to creating broad-based changes in physically active environments.
How can I use environments and policy strategies in my physical activity intervention?
- Point-of-decision prompts are interventions designed to change the physical environment to influence an individual to make active rather than sedentary behavioral choices. Active behavioral choices include things like running, climbing stairs, raking leaves, swimming, sweeping, dancing or walking briskly. These types of activities increase your heart rate and breathing. Sedentary behavioral choices include things like watching TV, playing video games, reading a book or working at a computer. Usually, point-of-decision prompts have been used to encourage people to take the stairs instead of an escalator or elevator. These point-of-decision prompts affect people’s motivation to choose the stairs over the escalator or elevator by providing a cue to action. Cues to action are signs or prompts in the environment that encourage people to do something active. Point-of-decision prompts can increase the number of short bouts of activity spread throughout the day to help individuals accumulate the 30 minutes of physical activity recommended by the Surgeon General. In addition, taking the stairs is often faster than waiting for the elevator and using the stairs requires no special skill, equipment or clothing yet it burns twice as many calories as walking.
- Enhanced access interventions work to address policy and environmental barriers to being physically active. Enhanced access interventions address a wide variety of different policy and environmental barriers, including efforts to:
- Develop, remodel, or maintain places to be physically active (e.g., indoor facilities, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, or trails that support physical activity). In some cases, this may overlap with Urban Planning and Transportation.
- Provide and maintain equipment to support physical activity (e.g., playground equipment, sports equipment – basketball, soccer, volleyball, etc.).
- Increase availability to existing facilities and resources (e.g., allow community members to use facilities and equipment in public or private schools)
- Offer convenient hours of operation (e.g., early morning, late evening).
- Allow for memberships or participation at reduced rates, using sliding fees, or without charge for qualified visitors.
- Provide amenities to support physical activity, including well-lit facilities, public restrooms, public drinking fountains, showers and locker rooms at worksites, bike racks at destinations in communities, and other necessities.
- Ensure personal safety to be physically active at all times of the day and night.
- Provide shade trees, plants, flowers, and other aesthetic qualities within the community to create friendly, inviting spaces for people to be active.
- Urban planning and transportation interventions include efforts to change policies and environments to support improvements in land use, urban design, and transportation systems. These interventions are designed to increase and sustain physical activity by providing opportunities to walk and bike as part of an individual’s everyday routine (e.g., trips to work, trips to school). For these interventions, land use refers to the proximity between commercial/governmental (e.g., stores, restaurants, post office), recreational (e.g., parks, walking trails), and residential (i.e., community members’ homes) destinations. When people live closer to commercial and recreational destinations, there is a greater likelihood that they can walk or bike to these locations (physical activity) as opposed to having to drive to these locations (sedentary behavior). Likewise, urban design characteristics (e.g., attractive buildings without parking lots in front of them, presence of benches or trees, historical landmarks) can help to make an environment more appealing to those who walk or bike. Transportation systems can also influence the likelihood that community members will choose to walk or ride a bike as opposed to making trips by car. Some of the ways transportation systems may help to increase physical activity include:
- Providing safe, clean, and maintained pedestrian and bicycle facilities (e.g., wide sidewalks; bike lanes; off-road trails) gives community members a place to walk or bike.
- Offering public transit alternatives (e.g., light rail systems, buses, trolleys) furnishes community members with connections to other communities yet still encourages walking or biking to and from the transit stops or stations.
- Supplying a grid-like street pattern (e.g., straight, short blocks, absence of cul-de-sacs) and traffic calming tools (e.g., stop lights or signs, marked crosswalks, speed limits) can increase access to different types of destinations, the number of different routes to get to the same destination, and perceptions of safety from traffic.
With whom should I work to develop and implement environment and policy strategies in my physical activity intervention?
- In order to create policies and environments that support physical activity, you may need to work with management and decision-makers to decide what makes sense for the organization (e.g., building a fitness center within a worksite).
- In the community, you may want to meet with local organizations (e.g., recreation facilities, educational institutions, community organizations) to decide what can be implemented as well as policy- and decision-makers to develop, enforce, and evaluate these policies and changes to the environment.
- It is also critical to work with local businesses that can help to implement these interventions (e.g., pharmacies, restaurant and grocery store owners and managers).
- You might consider working with experts in public policy, law, advocacy, law enforcement, community organizing, insurance or other partners to decide what changes can be made to improve the community as well as how these changes can be promoted.
How can I enhance environment and policy strategies in my physical activity intervention?
- Intervention strategies such as group education interventions and campaigns and promotions are often used in conjunction with environment and policy interventions. These strategies can be used to provide information to schools, recreation centers, churches, workplaces or other places on the benefits of regular physical activity and how to develop and enforce policies that make it easier for people to be active (e.g., newspaper, radio and television ads).