by Pam Eidson, MEd, PAPHS, NPAS Executive Director
About a decade ago, I organized a symposium on getting health promotion research into practice. Many of the Prevention Research Centers were present, along with health promotion directors from state health departments. The primary conclusion I left with: Little about the academic work environment rewards researchers for getting their findings into public health practice. “Publish or perish” may be cliché, but it’s based in reality.
So where does that leave the person in a state or local health department – or a nonprofit agency – wanting to discover findings related to physical activity policy research? If you’re like most practitioners, you probably don’t read many academic journals. An important presentation might send you to PubMed to look up a topic. But on a day-to-day basis, you probably depend on others to notify you if anything of interest happens out there in the research world. If you’re lucky, you get that information from a nonprofit or university, along with a link to the study. If you’re unlucky, the research you hear about is in a story by the misinformed media.
Why is media interpretation such a big problem? For one thing, reporters look for the new and sensational. The reading audience responds to Newer, Bigger, Contrary. Second, our issues in public health tend to be wordy and complicated, making them poor candidates for accurate reporting. Fully a decade into working on such issues, I found people within public health who had never heard the term “built environment.” You start to realize that your jargon is your jargon. Reporters write for the masses. Third, even if a piece is reported well, someone else writes the headline. You might read an article by an in-depth journalist (they still exist) that’s summed up by a headline that doesn’t quite fit what the journalist concludes. Plenty of people just read headlines. Or the caption on an accompanying photograph, also written by someone else, undermines the point of the piece. Or the photograph itself!
The task of translating research into practice then falls to those people who specifically make an effort to bridge the research world with the practice world. Maybe this is something you are good at (if so, contact me ). For most of us in the role of ‘bridger’, though, we are unlikely to have a ready mechanism for communicating what we have learned.
Then there’s this monthly newsletter. How do we know what information is interesting and useful for our audience? The January issue of Journal of Physical Activity and Health contains articles on:
- Barriers to exercise for employees of mass transit systems -- by one of the Society’s founders, Bhibha Das
- Sociodemographic and population density characteristics of bicycling for transportation, and
- Documentation that physical activity can help young people quit smoking
And I can’t mention JPAH without reminding people about the supplement last June on Walking and Walkability: Approaches to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health, which is open access on the Human Kinetics web site. (All links are at the bottom of this blog post.)
This month’s webinar (Monday, March 21st) will feature a Prevention Research Center investigator discussing the effects of zoning laws on physical activity. We’ve featured presenters from PAPRN (Physical Activity Policy Research Network) before, and this is the first webinar with its successor, PAPRN+. Feel free to send in comments on other research areas you’d like to hear about! There’s a place on the webinar evaluation to suggest future topics, or you can email us.
Meanwhile, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded the new Physical Activity Research Center through a grant to University of California at San Diego. While the main focus on PARC will be on childhood obesity, we hope to see information coming out of PARC useful to others.
With the redesign of the newsletter, we removed some of our former features, including the masthead of the board of directors (available on our web site) and a section called “For Researchers and Practitioners” in which we provided links to news on physical activity that consisted of one headline and a link. Would you like to see that Researchers and Practitioners feature come back? Do you have a knack for finding the research studies that will be most of use in increasing knowledge of physical activity promotion? Would you like to help prepare it each month for future newsletters?
Email us at “info” at the domain physicalactivitysociety.org.
January Journal of Physical Activity and Health articles mentioned:
Special Supplement: June 2015 (open access)
Physical Activity Research Center
Registration for March 21 webinar: