Volume 103, Supplement, October 2017
I am delighted to see this special issue of Preventive Medicine, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Active Living Research, released with a focus on a variety of perspectives on physical activity in public spaces from around the world. The 16 papers in this issue come from 5 continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. For the first time studies examining the urban environment and physical activity in several Asian countries (India, Bangladesh, China, and South Korea) have been published side-by-side with studies from previously well studied regions including Latin America, North America, Australia, and Europe.
What do we learn when this happens? No surprise, we find that what we thought we knew about the built environment and physical activity is substantially more complex and nuanced when we expand the number of countries and regions that are represented in the published scientific literature. Greater urban density may not always be associated with more walking and physical activity. Apparently, one can have too much of a good thing.
We also see that urban public space can be a platform for free and effective promotion of physical activity – in Brazil, Colombia, and a plethora of countries that are embracing bike share programs and open streets. These approaches to physical activity promotion are especially intriguing because they evolved out of grass roots interest and public policy from sectors other than health. Public health research is adding to our still limited understanding of these initiatives but was not the driver. These are not examples of scaling up research to practice, rather researchers are racing to catch up with societal phenomena that are already going to scale.
I hope that you dig into this diverse and fascinating set of papers and find new insights, perspectives, and challenging new questions.
Michael Pratt, MD, MSPE, MPH
About the author
Michael Pratt is a professor and the director of the Institute for Public Health at UC San Diego. He is widely published in the field of physical activity and health, and has been involved with Active Living Research from it's inception.