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Creating Walking Programs in Rural Communities


Regular physical activity reduces the risk of obesity and of developing chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In rural South Carolina the prevalence of these diseases is high among African Americans living below the poverty line, many of whom report being sedentary.

Researchers are working with residents in Sumter County, South Carolina, to introduce a walking program to get people exercising with friends and family at least five times a week. In earlier work, the researchers and the Sumter County Active Lifestyles (SCAL) coalition created safer places for residents to walk by improving the condition of trails and parks, and by changing local policies to allow longer park opening hours and a more police patrols. Now that safe walking paths are available, partners are promoting a walking program.

Researchers are conducting focus groups with 100 residents to get their advice on the best way to introduce walking programs in their neighborhoods. Researchers are also working with SCAL to recruit 325 people from five predominantly African-American communities to join program-sponsored walking programs. Participants are paired with a fellow recruit, or walking buddy, to motivate each other to reach a goal of 150 minutes of exercise per week by the end of the 12 month program. Participants’ body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, and flexibility, are measured when they enter the program and at 6 and 12 months later. Participants answer surveys that measure their motivation and attitudes toward walking, and how walking affects their feelings about their community. Researchers are also encouraging participants to get their friends and family members to join them in the walking programs.

Researchers will measure changes in participants’ health and fitness, and gauge whether the program keeps people walking, encourages walking for activities other than exercise, and improves participants’ attitudes about physical activity. Once the research has ended, participants will be surveyed to find out if they still walk regularly for exercise.
Research Setting
Community | County/Parish | Rural area
Race or Ethnicity
Black or African American | White
No specific focus
Age Group
Adults (25-49 years) | Older adults (50 years and older)
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Principal Investigator
Melinda Forthofer

Project Identifier
Multi-level Intervention to Improve Walking in Underserved Rural Communities - Core Project (2009-2014)

Funding Source
PRC Program

Project Status
Not active