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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sustained impact of community-based physical activity interventions: key elements for success

Callista Haggis1*, Joanie Sims-Gould12, Meghan Winters3, Kaitlyn Gutteridge12 and Heather A McKay12

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, 2635 Laurel Street, Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9, Canada

2 Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada

3 Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:892  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-892

Published: 27 September 2013



Compelling evidence supports the cost effectiveness and potential impact of physical activity on chronic disease prevention and health promotion. Quality of evidence is one piece, but certainly not the sole determinant of whether public health interventions, physical activity focused or otherwise, achieve their full potential for impact. Health promotion at both population and community levels must progress beyond health intervention models that isolate individuals from social, environmental, and political systems of influence.

We offer a critical evaluation of lessons learned from two successful research initiatives to provide insights as to how health promotion research contributes to sustained impact. We highlight factors key to success including the theoretical and methodological integration of: i) a social ecological approach; ii) participatory action research (PAR) methods; and iii) an interdisciplinary team.


To identify and illustrate the key elements of our success we layered an evaluation of steps taken atop a review of relevant literature.


In the school-based case study (Action Schools! BC), the success of our approach included early and sustained engagement with a broad cross-section of stakeholders, establishing partnerships across sectors and at different levels of government, and team members across multiple disciplines. In the neighbourhood built environment case study, the three domains guided our approach through study design and team development, and the integration of older adults’ perspectives into greenway design plans. In each case study we describe how elements of the domains serve as a guide for our work.


To sustain and maximize the impact of community-based public health interventions we propose the integration of elements from three domains of research that acknowledge the interplay between social, environmental and poilitical systems of influence. We emphasize that a number of key factors determine whether evidence from public health interventions in school and built environment settings is applied in practice and policy sectors. These include relationship building at individual, community, and societal levels of the social ecological model, using participatory action research methods, and involving an engaged and committed interdisciplinary team.

Physical activity; Built environment; Community-based research; Social ecological model; Participatory action research; Framework; Stakeholders