Introducing the Physical Activity Research Center

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March 2, 2016
By Nisha Botchwey
Introducing the Physical Activity Research Center

By Jim Sallis and Nisha Botchwey for the PARC Research Team

Last month at the Active Living Research conference, Dr. Tina Kauh from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced a new grant to establish the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC). We wanted to share more information about PARC and encourage you to contact us with questions!

Why was PARC created?

PARC was created as part of RWJF's commitment to ensure a healthy weight for all of America's children by the year 2025. RWJF supports evidence-based strategies that aim to make physical activity part of the daily routine for all youth—particularly those at greatest risk of becoming overweight or obese—and in every setting in which they live, learn and play. PARC’s goal is to help build the evidence about the policies, practices and aspects of the built environment that promote safe and developmentally appropriate physical activity for all youth and their families.

PARC will conduct studies to help inform national efforts for promoting active living among youth, ensuring all youth have opportunities to be physically active and preventing childhood obesity. Studies from PARC will address the immediate gaps and research needs related to RWJF’s priorities that support one or more of the following:

  • Ensuring all children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight
  • Making a healthy school environment the norm, and not the exception
  • Making physical activity a part of the everyday experience for all children and youth

Where will PARC be housed and how will it be staffed?

The PARC grant was awarded to the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) through a competitive application process. A multi-disciplinary, multi-institution research team will lead PARC and Dr. Tina Kauh will serve as the RWJF Program Officer.

Team members include:

  • Nisha Botchwey, PhD, PARC Co-Director, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology. Expertise: urban planning and public health.
  • James Sallis, PhD, PARC Co-Director, Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego. Expertise: health psychology and active living.
  • Myron Floyd, PhD, Department Head and Professor, North Carolina State University. Expertise: leisure studies, public parks and recreation and green space.
  • Keshia Pollack, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Expertise: public health, injury prevention and active living.
  • Carmen Cutter, Chad Spoon, Amanda Wilson, and Deb Rubio will provide support from UCSD.


What research topics will PARC focus on?

Topic areas of interest include (but are not limited to):

  • Pregnancy and maternal health
  • Infant, child and adolescent development (including the school setting)
  • Behavioral economics
  • Role of healthcare providers and the healthcare system
  • Role of business and industry
  • Out-of-school time settings
  • Transportation, land use, urban design and community settings
  • Parks, recreation, trails and open space settings
  • Racial/ethnic minority and low-income populations, particularly those in rural and urban geographic areas


What’s the PARC timeline?

PARC began with a 6-month planning phase on February 1, 2016. During this time, our goals are to:

  1. Identify priority research questions in collaboration with external advisors and RWJF partners
  2. Design and propose studies to answer the priority questions
  3. Add members to the research team as needed to conduct the studies
  4. Write a proposal to RWJF to conduct the studies


During the planning phase, the PARC team will solicit input on specific study questions and methods in each of RWJF’s priority areas. PARC’s first external interactions began in mid-February with a broad invitation to provide input on research priorities through an online survey. The next step will be in-depth discussions through interviews and an in-person meeting with external advisors.

Following the planning phase, PARC will propose a subset of studies to be supported by a $2.9 million 30-month research grant. PARC also will develop a new website to help disseminate study findings and translate the lessons of the research to inform policy and practice. The site will feature a short list of research gaps and recommended studies to encourage investigators to pursue studies beyond those conducted by PARC.

What’s the difference between PARC and ALR?

The main similarity is that both PARC and ALR have goals of using policy and environmental research to prevent childhood obesity, promote active living among youth and enhance equity of opportunity for physical activity for all children.

There are numerous and fundamental differences. Though RWJF funding of ALR as a national program office has been completed, PARC is not a new phase of ALR. PARC is a completely different program with different activities. The PARC Research Team will be conducting research studies that contribute to meeting RWJF's goals, while ALR managed a competitive grant funding program that supported a wide range of investigators. PARC's studies will be strategically selected to inform specific policies and directions for advocacy efforts, including those led by the Voices for Healthy Kids campaign, as well as to find solutions to disparities in childhood obesity as they relate to physical activity, while ALR's research agenda had broader goals about building evidence and an interdisciplinary field of study. PARC's communication activities will be focused around the specific studies conducted by PARC, while ALR communicated results from the whole field of active living.

What’s the future of ALR?

ALR will continue to exist as an organization, but with new goals and activities. The ALR team is pursuing grants and partnerships to apply the many lessons of 15 years of research to help design healthier communities. This goal reflects the unique capacity that ALR has from supporting grants that built knowledge about all aspects and settings related to active living. ALR has supported development and dissemination of many measures related to environments and policies, and we want to partner with community organizations and government agencies to use those measures in practice to assess needs and evaluate interventions.

ALR will continue to maintain its website and social media activities, so the wealth of information on academic papers, measures, research briefs, infographics, webinars, and blog posts will be available. However, development of new materials will depend on financial support. ALR Conferences have been essential to creating, building, and nurturing a vibrant interdisciplinary field. We are committed to continuing ALR Conferences to sustain the field, through partnerships and collaboration with leaders and organizations from multiple disciplines.

If you have any questions or input on PARC or the future of ALR, please contact Chad Spoon.


Can anyone access the online survey mentioned?

Congrats! Great to see the support from RWJF on this. After 21 years in the clinical trenches motivating patients to be more active, I've come back to Loma Linda Univ School of Public Health to start-up and stimulate research in physical activity so would love to know how to be more involved. We have a great partnership with the San Bermardino Unified School District and am interested in getting kids more active in the school setting. Also very interested in fighting "sitting disease". Looking forward to learning more!

How will psychology and other social sciences be integrated into this work?

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