Built environment interventions aimed at improving physical activity levels in rural Ontario health units: a descriptive qualitative study
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BACKGROUND: Few studies to date have explored the relationship between the built environment and physical activity specifically in rural settings. The Ontario Public Health Standards policies mandate that health units in Ontario address the built environment; however, it is unclear how public health practitioners are integrating the built environment into public health interventions aimed at improving physical activity in chronic disease prevention programs. METHODS: This descriptive qualitative study explored interventions that have or are being implemented which address the built environment specifically related to physical activity in rural Ontario health units, and the impact of these interventions. Data were collected through twelve in-depth semi-structured interviews with rural public health practitioners and managers representing 12 of 13 health units serving rural communities. Key themes were identified using qualitative content analysis. RESULTS: Themes that emerged regarding the types of interventions that health units are employing included: Engagement with policy work at a municipal level; building and working with community partners, committees and coalitions; gathering and providing evidence; developing and implementing programs; and social marketing and awareness raising. Evaluation of interventions to date has been limited. CONCLUSIONS: Public health interventions, and their evaluations, are complex. Health units who serve large rural populations in Ontario are engaging in numerous activities to address physical activity levels. There is a need to further evaluate the impact of these interventions on population health.
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