Community-wide physical activity campaigns

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Community-wide physical activity campaigns involve many community sectors, include highly visible, broad-based, multi-component strategies (e.g., social support, risk factor screening or health education) and may address cardiovascular disease risk factors1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Improved physical fitness

  • Improved weight status

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that community-wide physical activity campaigns increase physical activity among children and adults1, 2, increase walking in intervention communities3, and may reduce sedentary time among adults4. However, additional evidence is needed to determine the effects of such campaigns, especially at the population level. 

Community-wide physical activity campaigns have been shown to increase participant knowledge about exercise and physical activity as well as their intention to be physically active1, and can increase physical fitness among children and adults1, 2. A campaign in a Hispanic community in Texas is associated with significantly increased odds of adult community members meeting recommendations for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and significantly reduced excessive sedentary behavior4. Such campaigns can also reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease1. A Massachusetts-based study of Shape up Somerville demonstrated that a community-wide campaign can prevent weight gain for children at high risk for obesity2. A North Carolina-based study associates a physical activity campaign with positive effects on children’s physical activity level and BMI5

There are many challenges to successful community-wide physical activity campaigns, especially program reach, diverse and fragmented community settings, and the time needed to achieve institutional change; such campaigns may be more effective at achieving population level physical activity increases as part of a multi-component community change strategy that includes environmental and policy changes6. A study of the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) initiative in California suggests that communities implementing multiple strategies over a longer time frame could have positive effects, particularly on youth physical activity6. Community-wide physical activity campaigns, especially those with mass media components, should be culturally sensitive and tailored to communities to ensure wide reach across low and high income communities3. Experts also recommend longer studies with improved measures for evaluation to identify effects of such campaigns at the population level3

Collaborative partnerships, a key part of community-wide campaigns, have been shown to facilitate community-wide behavior change and environmental changes7. State health departments may be particularly well-positioned to coordinate or support such campaigns8. Community-wide interventions appear to be cost-effective approaches to increasing physical activity9, 10.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Many states have community-based efforts to promote physical activity and behavior change. Examples include Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina11, 12, 13, and 14. The Tu Salud ¡Sí Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!) Campaign in Texas supports city and county-level health-promoting policies, organizes community events for physical activity, and includes health screenings, education, free exercise classes, walking clubs, and infrastructure improvements like trails15.

Implementation Resources

CDC-Increasing physical activity 2011 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to increase physical activity in the community. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2011.

MA HHS-Mass in motion - Massachusetts Health and Human Services (MA HHS). Mass in motion.

Reger-Nash 2011 - Reger-Nash B, Bauman A, Smith BJ, et al. Organizing an effective community-wide physical activity campaign: A step-by-step guide. Health & Fitness Journal. 2011;15(5):21–7.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

2 Economos 2007 - Economos CD, Hyatt RR, Goldberg JP, et al. A community intervention reduces BMI z-score in children: Shape up Somerville first year results. Obesity. 2007;15(5):1325–36.

3 Cochrane-Baker 2015 - Baker P, Francis D, Soares J, Weightman A, Foster C. Community wide interventions for increasing physical activity (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015;(1):CD008366.

4 Heredia 2017 - Heredia NI, Lee M, Reininger BM. Exposure to a community-wide campaign is associated with physical activity and sedentary behavior among Hispanic adults on the Texas-Mexico border. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1):883.

5 Benjamin Neelon 2015 - Benjamin Neelon SE, Namenek Brouwer RJ, Østbye T, et al. A community-based intervention increases physical activity and reduces obesity in school-age children in North Carolina. Childhood Obesity. 2015;11(3):297-303.

6 Cheadle 2018 - Cheadle A, Atiedu A, Rauzon S, et al. A community-level initiative to prevent obesity: Results from Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Eating Active Living Zones initiative in California. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2018;54(5,S2):S150-S159.

7 Roussos 2000 - Roussos ST, Fawcett SB. A review of collaborative partnerships as a strategy for improving community health. Annual Review of Public Health. 2000;21:369–402.

8 Cousins 2011 - Cousins JM, Langer SM, Rhew LK, Thomas C. The role of state health departments in supporting community-based obesity prevention. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2011;8(4):A87.

9 Lehnert 2012 - Lehnert T, Sonntag D, Konnopka A, Riedel-Heller S, König H-H. The long-term cost-effectiveness of obesity prevention interventions: Systematic literature review. Obesity Reviews. 2012;13(6):537-53.

10 Roux 2008 - Roux L, Pratt M, Tengs TO, et al. Cost effectiveness of community-based physical activity interventions. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2008;35(6):578-88.

11 ESMM NC - Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina (ESMM NC).

12 CHAMPS - Community Healthy Activities Model Program for Seniors (CHAMPS). University of California San Francisco.

13 Shape up Somerville - City of Somerville. Shape up Somerville.

14 Mebane on the Move - Mebane on the Move. About.

15 Tu Salud Si Cuenta - Tu Salud ¡Sí Cuenta!. (Your Health Matters!). Creating a culture of health in the Rio Grande Valley.