Advances in Physical Activity and Nutrition Environment Assessment Tools and Applications



      In the past 15 years, researchers, practitioners, and community residents and leaders have become increasingly interested in associations among built environments and physical activity, diet, and obesity. Numerous tools to measure activity and food environments have been developed but vary in quality and usability. Future progress depends on aligning these tools with new communication technology and increasing their utility for planning and policy.


      The Built Environment Assessment Training Institute Think Thank was held in July 2013. Expert participants discussed priorities, gaps, and promising opportunities to advance the science and practice of measuring obesity-related built environments. Participants proposed and voted on recommended future directions in two categories: “big ideas” and additional recommendations.


      Recommendations for the first “big idea” involve developing new, simplified built environment assessment tools and deploying them through online trainings and easily accessible web-based apps. Future iterations of the tools would link to databases of key locations (e.g., parks, food stores); have built-in scoring and analysis; and provide clear, simple feedback to users. A second “big idea” addresses dissemination of results from built environment assessments and translation into policies including land use and food access planning. Additional recommendations include (1) improving multidisciplinary collaborations; (2) engaging stakeholders across sectors; (3) centralized data resource centers; (4) increased use of emerging technologies to communicate findings; and (5) advocating for expanded funding for measurement development, training, and dissemination.


      Implementing these recommendations is likely to improve the quality of built environment measures and expand their use in research and practice.
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