ThePlan – Public Health

The overarching goals of the Public Health Sector are to promote, protect, and maintain health and prevent disease at the population level. Public health initiatives historically have focused on controlling communicable diseases. In recent years, in response to the rise in rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic conditions, public health efforts have increasingly focused on preventing these non-communicable diseases. The public health sector consists of governmental organizations, such as public health agencies and federal, state, county, and local health departments. It also includes non-governmental organizations that seek to address public health goals, such as institutions of higher education, professional societies, non-profit organizations, think tanks, and advocacy groups. Organizations within the public health sector perform a variety of functions, including research, surveillance, program development and delivery, evaluation, training, and advocacy. These functions complement and support the goals of several of the National Plan sectors, including Healthcare; Education; Community Recreation, Fitness and Parks; and Transportation, Land Use and Community Design.

Given the potential reach of public health organizations across wide segments of the population, the public health sector plays a critical role in promoting physical activity in the United States. As evidence linking physical activity to the reduction of chronic disease risk grows, public health organizations are increasingly focusing on programs and initiatives to promote physical activity. Educational and multi-strategy campaigns to increase physical activity have been implemented and evaluated at the national1 and community2 level. Policy strategies also can potentially influence physical activity at the population level through systems change in organizations, environments, and communities. For example, a recent review of physical activity policies in rural communities found that those targeting enhanced infrastructure for walking and increased opportunities for extracurricular physical activity were implemented most commonly.3 To deliver evidence-based physical activity programming and advocate for policy change, however, the public health workforce may require greater competence in these areas. Physical activity and public heath training programs with online4 and in-person5 delivery formats may serve as models for training and capacity-building.

The National Physical Activity Plan provides six strategies to promote physical activity through the Public Health Sector. These strategies focus on: 1) developing a competent workforce, 2) building partnerships, 3) developing policy and advocacy efforts, 4) improving surveillance and evaluation of programs, 5) disseminating tools and resources, and 6) providing funding and resources. Recommendations that are new to this update of the National Physical Activity Plan include a call for the creation and funding of an Office of Physical Activity and Health within the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at CDC. Also, these updated Public Health Sector strategies recommend the creation of an Office within the NIH Office of the Director that would be responsible for coordinating and monitoring research funding for physical activity across all NIH Institutes.


Public health organizations should develop and maintain a workforce with competence and expertise in physical activity and health and that has ethnic, cultural, and gender diversity. [View Tactics]

Public health agencies should create, maintain, and leverage cross-sectoral partnerships and coalitions that implement evidence-based strategies to promote physical activity. [View Tactics]

Non-profit public health organizations should engage in policy development and advocacy to elevate the priority of physical activity in public health practice, policy, and research. [View Tactics]
Public health agencies should expand monitoring of policy and environmental determinants of physical activity and the levels of physical activity in communities (surveillance), and should monitor implementation of public health approaches to promoting active lifestyles (evaluation). [View Tactics]

Public health organizations should disseminate tools and resources important to promoting physical activity, including resources that address the burden of disease due to inactivity, the implementation of evidence-based interventions, and funding opportunities for physical activity initiatives. [View Tactics]

Public health agencies should invest equitably in physical activity, commensurate with its impact on disease prevention and health promotion.  [View Tactics]

Oliver Bartzsch is an experienced medical professional with over 15 years of professional experience. With a passion for medicine, fitness, and personal growth, he is always willing to challenge himself to accomplish tasks and especially to provide accurate medical information to people. Oliver is a long-time medical editor for multiple sites. With more than 10 years of medical writing experience, he has completed over 350 projects with both individual and corporate clients.


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