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Proven Programs

This section of WhatWorks presents examples of proven programs for physical activity, active transportation, and childhood obesity. A program included in WhatWorks either has been shown as effective through research and evaluation or has been successfully implemented by a community or a school district.


Jump Rope for the Heart (JRFH) & Hoops for Heart (HFH)

Sponsor: Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) and The American Heart Association

Purpose: Schools participate to raise funds for the American Heart Association

Benefits: Schools are provided with supporting curriculum and can earn gift certificates for physical education equipment; offers students opportunities to achieve National Standards.

Challenges/Limitations: Requires significant time commitment from schools, particularly the physical education departments, with regard to planning and coordinating events as well as setting up fundraising capabilities.


Let’s Move Active Schools

Sponsor: Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Partnership for a Healthier America, President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, SHAPE America, United States Department of Health and Human Services

Purpose: This program seeks to ensure that 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the norm in K-12 schools by providing access to evidence-based resources , free professional development opportunities, grants and incentives, a customized Action Plan, and technical assistance.

Benefits: Regular physical activity helps school-age children to stay healthy and strong and also leads to higher test scores, improved attendance, increased focus, better behavior in class, enhanced leadership skills, and development of healthy habits.

Challenges/Limitations: Organizing the social support to start and sustain the program..


President’s Challenge

Sponsor: President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition

Purpose: This program seeks to help people of all ages and abilities to increase their physical activity and improve their fitness. Programs include the Presidential Youth Fitness Program (PYFP), the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) and the Presidential Champions.

Benefits:The President’s Challenge provides testing as well as competition within and between schools.

Challenges/Limitations: Requires significant time on the part of educators to create and sustain the program.


The Walking Classroom

Sponsor: The Walking Classroom Institute

Purpose: This is a program that helps to ensure students have the opportunity for movement they need without sacrificing classroom time. The program supplies teachers with age-appropriate podcasts that incorporate the common core.

Benefits: Students get in 20 minutes of physical activity which has been shown to stimulate mental health.

Challenges/Limitations: The program is directly aligned with 4th and 5th grade curriculum (though is appropriate for grades 3-8) -- only. There is a significant cost to participating in the program, though kits can be sponsored or borrowed on a limited basis.


Social Support Interventions in Community Settings

Sponsor: New or existing social networks can form participant partnerships or groups on a voluntary or coordinated basis. Social networks can be found in neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces.

Purpose: Social support interventions in communities build on social networks and inter-personal relationships to encourage physical activity. Examples are buddy systems to support an activity, such as walking and making contracts to achieve activity goals.

Benefits: These programs have been shown to get people to be more physically active and more frequent support seems to result in more physical activity. Participants have had improved fitness levels and lower body fat levels.

Challenges/Limitations: Organizing social groups and sustaining members' participation over the long term require vigorous and committed leadership.


School-Based Programs (generally)

Sponsor: School districts, teachers, parents, PTAs, and community organizations

Purpose: Programs to increase physical activity and improve nutrition among school-age children may complement or supplement physical education class. Examples include: homework, family workshops and health-behavior education.

Benefits: Effective programs are those that include nutrition and physical activity components in combination and allot additional time to physical activity during the school day, including noncompetitive sports. Effective programs increase the amount of time during which students engage in moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity.

Challenges/Limitations: Potential issues to be avoided or addressed include: intruding on class time for academic programs; needing personnel to oversee non-academic activities; using gym or field during practice times for competitive teams; and addressing parental concerns for safety, time, and other related matters. Additionally, teachers may need special training and materials.


Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS)

Sponsor: Safe Routes to School National Partnership

Purpose: SRTS is a national movement, which aims to remove barriers that prevent children from walking or bicycling to school. The SRTS Partnership is a nonprofit organization founded in 2005 that improves the quality of life for children and communities by proposing active healthy lifestyles and safe infrastructure that support bicycling and walking.

Benefits: SRTS encourages self-powered transportation to school, thus increasing overall physical activity. Evaluation of SRTS programs indicate that they encourage cooperation between public health and school officials.

Challenges/Limitations: Obtaining funding, policies that discourage students to safely walk and bike to school, support from local leaders, getting parents to allow children to walk/bike to school, and walking and biking routes being physically maintained and environmentally safe can discourage implementation.


Pennsylvania Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS)

Sponsor: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PA DOT)

Purpose: PA DOT provides resources and funding for starting and implementing local SRTS projects and programs developed by school districts, municipalities and/or counties. Since 2012, the PA DOT has administered the funds provided under the federal "MAP-21" Act, through its Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). Funds can be granted for both infrastructure and noninfrastructure projects.

Benefits: The SRTS program aims to increase the number and improve the safety of children bicycling and walking to schools on a daily basis. In addition, SRTS programs benefit schools and communities by improving health and fitness, improving safety, relieving traffic congestion, reducing air pollution, decreasing fuel consumption, and expanding local infrastructure.

Challenges/Limitations: Challenges may include obtaining funding for projects and programs, engaging stakeholders to implement an effective program, and identifying appropriate project leaders.


Youth Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education Curriculum

Sponsor: School-based and community education programs

Purpose: Programs can be brief (such as a bicycle or traffic safety rodeo or a class or school assembly) or intensive (in-depth instruction and practice sessions). The latter are deemed to be more effective.

Benefits: Children who use "self-powered" transportation to school and community activities benefit from special training in safe biking and walking.

Challenges/Limitations: A comprehensive curriculum can be costly, thus favoring the bicycle rodeo or school assembly. Some schools prefer not to dedicate academic class time for bicycle or pedestrian safety, but prefer to use physical education time.


Complete Streets

Sponsor: State and local legislators and policy makers

Purpose: Requires that the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of roadway and transit facilities meet the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, the disabled, and transit users as well as motorists.

Benefits: May contribute to reducing frequency of injury and death among pedestrians and bicyclists. Can create uninterrupted routes linking homes, schools, shopping, business, and recreation areas.

Challenges/Limitations: Implementation requires official action (through legislation or planning) as well as financial investment.


Philadelphia Complete Streets

Sponsor: In 2009, the City's Mayor issued an executive order stating that streets would accommodate "all users of the transportation system" and would be designed, built, and maintained as Complete Streets.

Purpose: A handbook from the Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities guides community groups for purposes of planning and advocacy.

Benefits: The Philadelphia experience and handbook are resources for any planning and design process undertaken at the at the level of local government or community. The handbook includes information about implementation and enforcement.

Challenges/Limitations: Replicating the Philadelphia experience requires coordination among political, business, and community leaders.


Reducing Recreational Screen Time

Sponsor: Individual families; may be initiated and/or coordinated through schools

Purpose: These interventions teach self-management skills to children aged 13 years and younger. Various strategies include monitoring to limit screen time, allowing screen time based on physical activity, and using a "TV turn-off" challenge.

Benefits: Reducing recreational screen time has been shown to reduce sedentary screen time, increase physical activity, improve diet, and improve or maintain desirable weight.

Challenges/Limitations: Family-based social support is an important component, and teachers need special training. Some high-intensity interventions use an electronic monitoring device to limit screen time. Low-cost apps can be installed on mobile devices. Time-control features are available from some cable providers and e-readers.


Community-wide Campaigns

Sponsor: Governments; community and voluntary organizations

Purpose: Community-wide campaigns deliver messages that promote physical activity by using television, radio, newspaper columns and inserts, and trailers in movie theaters. These interventions involve many community sectors and include highly visible, broad-based, multicomponent strategies (such as social support, risk factor screening, and health education).

Benefits: Increase of the percentage of people who report being physically active, increase of knowledge about exercise, and increase of people's intentions to be more physically active.

Challenges/Limitations: Campaigns are typically long term and resource intensive and require trained staff.


Community-Scale Urban Design Land Use Policies

Sponsor: Governments; community advocacy groups

Purpose: Applies to areas of several square miles or more. Urban planners, architects, engineers, developers, and public health professionals engage in efforts to change the physical environment of urban areas in ways that support physical activity. They include: proximity of residential areas to stores, jobs, schools, and recreation areas; continuity and connectivity of sidewalks and streets; aesthetic and safety aspects of the physical environment; and policy instruments such as zoning regulations, building codes, other governmental policies; and builders' practices.

Benefits: Based on behavior of residents, implementing such policies can improve aspects of physical activity (such as the number of walkers or bicyclists), increase green spaces, improve sense of community, decrease isolation, and reduce crime and stress.

Challenges/Limitations: Research is not conclusive about such issues as: community characteristics necessary to support interventions; how to build the necessary political and society support; and which neighborhood features are most critical (e.g., sidewalks, parks, traffic flow, shopping proximity).


Street-Scale Urban Design Land Use Policies

Sponsor: Governments; community advocacy groups

Purpose: Applies to areas of a few blocks. Urban planners, architects, engineers, developers, and public health professionals engage in efforts to change the physical environment in ways that support physical activity. These include developing policies (e.g., building codes, roadway design standards, environmental changes) and improving design components (e.g., street lighting, safety of street crossings, speed bumps, traffic circles, and street landscapes).

Benefits: Based on behavior of residents, implementing such policies can improve aspects of physical activity (such as number of walkers or bicyclists), increase green spaces, improve sense of community, decrease isolation, and reduce crime and stress.

Challenges/Limitations: Research is not conclusive about such issues as: community characteristics necessary to support interventions; how to build the necessary political and society support; and which neighborhood features are most critical (e.g., sidewalks, parks, traffic flow, shopping proximity).


Safe Routes for Seniors (New York City)

Sponsor: Transportation Alternatives is a private company that implemented this program in a number of neighborhoods in New York City

Purpose: Documented dangerous walking conditions dangerous to seniors; hosted workshops for seniors to design solutions; and recommended policy changes and physical infrastructure improvements for consideration by city agencies.

Benefits: Increased neighborhood walkability and safety for seniors; neighborhood walking maps; safe seniors program adoption by city and state; safety design portfolio for general use; and seniors engaged in workshops and walking assessments.

Challenges/Limitations: Adoption by city and state agencies for sustaining the program is critical.


Safe Routes for Seniors (Goleta, California)

Sponsor: Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST) adapted its existing Safe Routes to School methods, influenced by the Transportation Alternatives Program in New York City. COAST then turned the program over to the city of Goleta. A report on the COAST project appears on the website of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

Purpose: Assessed pedestrian safety and troublesome traffic intersections; identified areas for attention and capital improvement; and developed an interactive Google map

Benefits: This program can build upon a community's pre-existing Safe Routes to School program, thus taking advantage of collaborators and officials already involved.

Challenges/Limitations: Adoption by city and state agencies for sustaining the program is critical.


Last update: May 10, 2016. New documentation shall be added as it is identified.