Physical activity can decrease the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses, but not all people have access to places to be active or are aware of physical activity resources in their community. Researchers have supported the Sumter County Active Lifestyles (SCAL) coalition and other community partners on strategies to improve community environments and policies to support an active lifestyle. Strategies included media campaigns, community improvement projects, advocacy, and partnership development.
SCAL worked with a variety of community groups to organize group walks, hikes, and kayaking trips, and create and distribute walking trail guides to more than 5,400 people. Approximately 3,400 bicycling maps showing routes of various distances were distributed throughout the county. In a bicycle safety campaign, SCAL distributed bicycle lights and “Share the Road” educational materials.
SCAL has also influenced decision-makers to support or modify policies that create an active community environment. For example, SCAL worked with a local cycling group and other community entities to produce a greenways plan, which recommends bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and trails, that will be incorporated into a long-range transportation plan developed by the local metropolitan transportation organization. In addition, a SCAL committee identified a Sumter neighborhood where residents felt unsafe walking at night and created a request for streetlights that will be reviewed by the city council. SCAL also successfully advocated for 27 new bike signs throughout the community and expansion of local walking trails.
The center and the coalition partnered with faith and community groups in rural, underserved areas to assess and address disparities in community resources for physical activity and recreation by offering community mini-grants, technical assistance, and training. About $125,000 was awarded through 10 mini-grants to help communities develop walking trails and improve parks.
By mentoring SCAL in how to obtain grants and achieve nonprofit status, the center also enhanced the community’s ability to maintain physical activity improvements after the project’s end. Researchers aided the coalition in recruiting members and establishing training to sustain program activities. A gap in community capacity is being addressed by a project that provides skill-building workshops to help local residents be effective community advocates for active living.
A pending follow-up telephone survey of Sumter County and a comparison community will measure how the project’s promotion activities, environmental changes, and advocacy efforts influenced community members’ physical activity.