Advocating for racial equity in physical activity

Studies have shown that many Black and African American communities are at a disadvantage when it comes to physical activity opportunities. Specifically, discrepancies exist when considering infrastructure development for walking, mass transit, biking and more, such as adequate bike lanes and sidewalks.

To help promote physical activity at the community level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has embarked on a strategy known as the Activity Friendly Routes to Everyday Destinations (Routes to Destination), which specifically aims to connect pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation systems with built environment and land use destinations.

A recent study led by Tyler Prochnow, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, seeks to increase awareness, knowledge, and understanding of Black/African American transportation and land use experts’ perspectives and concerns around inequities that have discouraged physical activity among Black/African American persons, specifically Routes to Destinations strategies. The study has been accepted for publication in the journal, Health Promotion Practice, and the project was sponsored by the CDC and the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE).

“This is a collaboration among a couple of different working groups,” Prochnow said. “We wanted to provide more focus on the perspectives and go about it in a number of different ways. Instead of just using a systematic academic approach, we did a literature review of academic articles and blogs that might be published in this area as well as presentations and Twitter conversations.”

Prochnow and his associates studied three different forms of communication—peer-reviewed literature, grey literature (information produced outside of traditional publishing and distribution channels) and social media posts (i.e., Twitter)—authored by Black/African American transportation and land use experts that focus on policy, system, and environmental changes that promote or discourage equitable and inclusive access to physical activity.

The scan focused on pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation systems connected to built environment or land use topics, including policy, system and environmental changes that can promote or discourage equitable and inclusive access to physical activity, specifically activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations.

“It was really important to us to be able to include a lot of different points of view and ways that they disseminate their findings,” Prochnow said. “This was a good way to bring them together and to put more of a spotlight on their points of view and how these individuals are speaking about physical activity disparities and inequities.”

One of the main components that Prochnow and his associates focused on was addressing equity and inclusion through policy. The researchers took a closer look at how the communities were engaged in new policies, not just at face value, but throughout the entire process.

In their review, Prochnow and his associates found that there were some similarities in the way that experts were talking about the issues, especially when it came to addressing equity and inclusion through policy.

“It’s a very small part, but I think it’s the first step to really ensure that these experts see the research being done and then making that research go into how they decide policy and develop change,” Prochnow said. “We want to push for more focus on these equity issues and to not just talk about them but put them into policy or the way these municipalities make decisions.”

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