The US earns an “F” for children and youth walking behavior, safety, public transportation, institutional policies, and pedestrian infrastructure, according to the National Walking and Walkable Communities Report Card.
In addition, it earns a “D” for walkable neighborhoods and pedestrian policies. It gets a “C” for adult walking behavior.
“Report cards can facilitate change,” says Amy Eyler, associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and deputy director of the Prevention Research Center in St. Louis.
“When a child brings home poor grades, parents and teachers can develop strategies for the child to do better,” she says. “We have tremendous opportunity for improvement.
“Not only can we do a lot better within each of the factors, but we have the opportunity to create better, consistent surveillance and measurement of these factors so we can have evidence of change.”
Eyler doesn’t find the report’s results surprising.
“Being in the physical activity research field for two decades prepared me for the outcome,” she says. “The US is very car-centric, with planning and transportation priorities mostly focused on automobiles.”
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, for adults.
“Walking for pleasure or transportation counts as physical activity, and decades of research shows that people who are physically active are healthier than those who are not,” Eyler says. “Plus, walking really doesn’t require special skills or equipment.
“If we are going to promote and encourage any physical activity for all ages and abilities, I think our best bet is walking. Although the decision to walk is an individual choice, this decision can be influenced by the way communities are designed and built—and this is where improvements can be made as indicated by the report card.”
Eyler and fellow panel members presented the results September 14 at the National Walking Summit in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The National Physical Activity Plan Alliance, a nonprofit organization that is committed to ensuring the long-term success of the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP), put together the advisory panel that created the report.