CDC bestows ALR with "Pioneering Innovation Award"

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May 9, 2012
By Jim Sallis
CDC bestows ALR with "Pioneering Innovation Award"

Last night Active Living Research received the "Applied Obesity Research Award" as part of the CDC's Pioneering Innovation Awards at the 2012 Weight of the Nation conference, which I was honored to accept as director of the program. This was a particularly meaningful award because it was also presented to our sister program, Healthy Eating Research, and our funder, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, represented by Tracy Orleans. Obviously the award is not to me, but to the whole Active Living Research team, present and past. Read the official press release on all of the award winners. Check out this great video profile of all three groups.

All three groups were recognized for starting and building new research fields on the role of environments and policies in shaping active living, healthy eating, and preventing childhood obesity. When we started these programs, the main approach to research on eating and physical activity was to assess and intervene on psychological and social factors, such as self-efficacy, goal-setting, and social support. This approach is useful, but did not recognize that many people ate poorly and were inactive because they did not have access to, or could not afford, healthy foods and physical activity opportunities. Our programs have now documented that people from lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color often live in environments where it is difficult to get healthy foods, children do not have suitable places to play, and even taking a walk can be dangerous. The research from our programs also shows that unhealthy environments are the result of unhealthy policies in schools, communities, and companies.

The research has contributed to a consensus that the obesity epidemic cannot be solved by educating one individual at a time. We have to make it easier for people to be active and eat healthy foods in America. If we are to reduce obesity, we have to remove barriers to healthy living. Recommendations from groups like the Institute of Medicine recognize this reality. Medical groups have concluded that the obesity problem will not be solved inside the clinic. Everybody needs to play a role, and research has identified actions that are likely to work. People all over the country are working to create healthier environments and policies. From local school boards and city councils changing policies to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, people are taking action. It is not enough, it is not fast enough, and it is not everywhere, but America is becoming a healthier country.

It is especially appropriate to receive this award at a meeting sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC has been working on environment and policy change for many years and contributed to the birth of this research field. The biggest manifestation of the shift from an individual to an environment and policy approach to obesity control is that CDC managed the Communities Putting Prevention to Work grants and is now leading the Community Transformation Grants program. These programs are devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to fighting obesity through environment, policy, and systems change. The successes they achieve will be solutions that last a long time. These programs are consistent with the research coming from Active Living Research, Healthy Eating Research and related studies, and we are all very proud to be recognized as innovators in a field that has gone mainstream. The ultimate reward for this work is to see evidence that people are becoming more active, eating better, obesity rates are declining, and health is improving in America.

Active Living Research is part of the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine.

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