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HOMING IN ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

The CPASS Center for Active WV is moving the needle on physical activity in the state.

Illustration of people being active in WV

The Center for Active WV began with a handful of CPASS faculty who felt called to respond to several growing health crises in West Virginia — crises that involve increasing rates of adult and childhood obesity and all of the accompanying health issues, from diabetes to heart disease.

Eloise Elliott, Ware Distinguished Professor of physical education teacher education, says they saw many other centers around the University having a real impact on communities in the state and beyond and knew this might be one way to move the needle. Lacking the initial funds to create a University center, the faculty launched the College-based version in the hopes of gaining enough financial traction down the road to move into full University center status in the future. Their hope in a nutshell? “To encourage people across the University as well as decision-makers across the state to focus on physical activity,” Elliott says. “It emerged out of a passion for getting more people to become active and improve their lives.”

Starting in 2010, CPASS faculty and staff— including Sam Zizzi, the Dr. Pat Fehl Endowed Professor of sport and exercise psychology and the associate dean for research, and Sean Bulger, associate dean for graduate and online education and professor of physical education teacher education — began planning the ambitious project. Today, a decade after its inception, the Center is making inroads in West Virginia communities, helping to increase both awareness of and access to physical activity, improve physical activity outcomes and change lives for the better.

Working with local communities, the Center has 12 funded projects, with six already complete. Their vision is not only to increase physical activity among children and adults but also to meet or exceed the national physical activity recommendations (2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans). To do this, their mission is to create an effective statewide framework for physical activity that will encourage communities and organizations to add their input, collaborate and facilitate positive change, open new avenues of research and help guide state and local policy.

Their current focus is on the health of schools, communities and even families. Three grant-funded projects have become standout examples of the Center’s influence: the Be Active Grant Program, the WV CARDIAC Project and the Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy project.

Be Active WV Grant Program

Partnering with the West Virginia Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease, this grant program is funding projects across the state to increase access to physical activity, with mini-grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. This project includes creating and increasing opportunities for physical activity in West Virginia classrooms throughout the school day and beyond. It also includes improving and even adding to pedestrian and bike infrastructure, inspiring more families and community members to take advantage of the wild and wonderful outdoors. Finally, this program is also working with healthcare settings to create opportunities for physical activity.

So far, success stories include projects like the Mon River Trails Conservancy, which worked with the Reedsville Town Council and Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission to plan and build a new walking and biking path from the Deckers Creek Rail-Trail to downtown Reedsville businesses, a roughly half-mile stretch.

The Williamson Health and Wellness Center Storybook Walking Trail has been another, literal, success story. This project involved improving physical activity in Mingo County, where two out of five adults self-report to be physically inactive and nearly a third of the population report fair or poor health. To help improve these troubling statistics, Williamson Health and Wellness, Inc., a medical group practice located in Williamson, worked with a student-led health ambassador program at Williamson PK-8 School to improve signage and establish the Storybook Walking Trail, now a half-mile of trails that include 18 storybook boxes designed to engage walkers, families and visitors and to encourage more trail usage. Local teachers will also be using the trail as an active learning component throughout the day. They anticipate over 150 students in at least eight classrooms will increase their physical activity thanks to this improved trail. 

WV CARDIAC Project

The WV Cardiac Project, active in 25 counties, is working to arm West Virginia families with the knowledge, opportunities and inspiration they need to embrace wellness. The project has provided school health screenings and — for both children and families — free blood pressure and family history assessments that can then be sent to principals, nurses and primary care doctors as needed.

School- and community-based healthy activities are yet another component, either provided or endorsed by the project, to help children and families take charge of their own lifestyles by encouraging healthy food and drink choices and taking part in physical activities for at least an hour most days of week.

Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy.

A five-year endeavor, the Be Wild, Be Wonderful, Be Healthy, project, otherwise known as BeHealthyWV, has taken on the incredible need for access to healthy food and physical activity in Clay and McDowell counties, two of the poorer in the state. This partnership between the WVU Extension Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strives to build bridges between local resources and community needs.

This unique project truly works to put community voices front and center. It also helps in identifying, mapping and building connections to healthy food resources within communities in order to make finding and taking advantage of those resources easier. This can require changes to policy, systems or environments. The project works to get this done by partnering with other organizations, such as the Mountaineer Food Bank and the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, providing funding and technical support as needed.

Looking to the Future

Ten years in, The CPASS Center for Active WV has many goals — the first of which is to become a University center and secure a sustainable source of funding. This is all in service to their overall goal: a healthier West Virginia. A big part of that? Spreading the word about who they are and what they’re doing. That includes developing a great website (activewv.org), building a social media presence (@BeActiveWV) and creating an overall brand that people resonate with. Designing tool kits, webinars, podcasts and resources like fact sheets, research and reports are the day-to-day needs of keeping the Center humming. But, Elliott insists, they never lose sight of their biggest inspiration — the people and communities still suffering. “Many of us are native West Virginians,” Eloise says. “That gives us a unique motivation.”

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