Physical Activity in California Out-Of-School Time Sites Certified by the Distinguished After School Health Program

Findings and Implications for Future Policy Efforts

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Physical activity helps children stay physically fit, and reduce the risk for obesity, anxiety and other chronic diseases. Current U.S. guidelines call for children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily but they are far from meeting these goals. With over 10 million children attending afterschool programs in the U.S. each year, including about 1.6 million in California alone, out-of-school time (OST) programs offer a promising setting for increasing children’s physical activity.

The California Distinguished After School Health (DASH) Recognition Program was the first state-legislated voluntary recognition program in OST focused on healthy eating and physical activity. Out-of-school time programs in California elementary and middle schools serving a high proportion of children from low-income families were eligible for the DASH Program to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The program included certification that participating programs met 10 program standards in health education, healthy eating, nutrition education, physical activity and screen time.

This study evaluated the policy for quality and technical assistance issues in delivering physical activity in DASH-certified programs. The primary research questions focus on understanding (1) how programs that apply for DASH certification differ from non-applicants on a range of characteristics and practices, (2) why some programs decide not to apply, and (3) identifying technical assistance needs to improve DASH compliance.

Key findings

  • The most common physical activity session length was 30-35 minutes in which 36% of the time (or approximately 10 minutes) was spent on instruction and management and not on physical activity.
  • The longer the session, the more MVPA time we observed, with boys being more active than girls. This finding is consistent with earlier studies of physical education, which have also shown that children typically attain MVPA for less than half of each class, and that boys are more active than girls (e.g., Lonsdale et al., 2013; McKenzie et al., 2004; Nader, 2003).
  • Observations and staff interviews at DASH certified sites suggest that the amount of physical activity varies among sites. Some staff interpreted the DASH standard as a guideline for session length rather than for children’s activity time per se, and others noted that variation in children’s motivation and ability, session content, weather and other factors were influential.


During our evaluation, the program was allowed to sunset for a range of reasons, including concerns that relatively few programs applied to it and that quality was difficult to validate. Support for continuing DASH was also low due to its isolation from other related quality improvement legislation and its lack of funding for capacity building.

Although DASH ended, efforts to improve physical activity in OST are ongoing in California and other states. Findings from this study reinforce that, in order for children to receive adequate MVPA at OST programs, policies should:

  • Include field-tested, clear language that clearly communicates whether time requirements refer to activity time offered or achieved;
  • Facilitate access to training and technical assistance on how to maximize activity time, reduce management and instruction time, and ensure girls and boys are equally active;
  • encourage physical activity periods that are long enough to accommodate instruction while Allowing children to accrue adequate MVPA; 
  • Include a mechanism for ongoing quality assurance; and
  • Allow for modest levels of day-to-day variability at the classroom and child level, without allowing that variability to weaken activity goals.

Download the 17-page full report (PDF) and 2-page lay summary (coming soon).

Learn more about the project and research team here.

Suggested Citation:
Wiecha J & Rineer J. Physical Activity in California Out-of-School Time Sites Certified by the Distinguished After School Health Program (DASH): Findings and Implications for Future Policy Efforts. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International; 2019. Available at:

Evidence to Inform a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

Evidence to Inform a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

By: Angie Cradock ScD, MPE , Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Jessica Barrett, MPH, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Tony Hull, BA, Civil Street Solutions; Billy Fields, PhD, Texas State University

Originally posted to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health website.

Read the full report.

In the United States, few people regularly use physically active modes of transportation like walking or cycling to get to work or school. Might increasing the investment in pedestrian and cycling programs encourage more active modes of transportation? This study uses national data on financial investment in pedestrian and bicycle programs and infrastructure to evaluate the evidence for how funding can support more walking and cycling over time.

This study used data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey to look at how people ages 16 and older got to and from work over time between 2000 and 2016 in counties with populations of at least 100,000 people. The authors calculated how much total federal transportation funding was used to support projects for cycling and walking in all U.S. counties from 2000 and 2015, classifying some as high investment counties and others as low investment counties. Authors looked in depth at data from 104 counties. High investment counties spent five to six times as much as low-investment counties did on bicycle and pedestrian projects. The researchers then analyzed these data to determine changes over time in the proportion of workers traveling on foot or bicycle within both low investment and high investment counties.

Read the brief summary.

Key findings from the study included:

  • Nationally, the proportion of total federal transportation funding allocated specifically for cycling and pedestrian investments has increased over time from 0.1% of total transportation funding allocation in FY 1992 to 2.2% of total transportation funding allocation in FY 2015.
  • Locally, the allocation and use of federal funding for cycling and pedestrian investments is variable across counties in the U.S.
  • The share of commuters cycling to work increased on average in counties between 2000 and 2016.
  • The increases were greater in those counties with high levels of bicycle and pedestrian funding compared to counties with low levels of funding.

In conclusion, many communities may not invest sufficiently to support growth in cycling and walking for transportation, recreation or exercise. Federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects can play a role in increasing the proportion of workers using a bicycle to get to and from work.

Download the full infographic.

The findings in this research summary are based on the results of a project commissioned by the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) focused on addressing research gaps related to policies aimed at helping children achieve a healthy weight.

Suggested Citation:
Cradock AL, Barrett J, Hull T, Fields W. Evidence to Inform a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. Boston, MA: Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; 2019. Available at:

Address correspondence to Angie Cradock, ScD, MPE at

Best Practices in Engaging Public Health in Complete Streets

Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned

By: Christina Sansone, MPH, Jill Sadowski, and Jamie F. Chriqui, PhD, MHS, UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy

Researchers at the Illinois Prevention Research Center’s Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ (PAPRN+) Collaborating Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and Institute for Health Research and Policy have released a new report entitled, Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned. The report shares strategies, lessons learned, and case studies of how public health agencies, practitioners, and advocates have successfully engaged with their planning, transportation, and public works’ counterparts on Complete Streets policy making and related initiatives. Information for the report was obtained through key informant interviews and Internet research for 15 jurisdictions across the United States. One of the key features of the report are 2-page profiles on each jurisdiction, which include:

Read the full report.
  • Summaries of how the public health sector has engaged on Complete Streets initiatives and other agencies that they have worked with on this issue
  • Key lessons learned through their experiences
  • How they have prioritized equity
  • A timeline of their Complete Streets-related policy making, initiatives, coalitions, etc
  • Links to their policies, guidelines, plans, etc.

Funding for this study was provided by a sub-award from the Physical Activity Research Center (PARC) and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Illinois Prevention Research Center Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ (PAPRN+) Collaborating Center.

Decisions to Act: Investing in Physical Activity to Enhance Learning and Health

Decisions to Act: Investing in Physical Activity to Enhance Learning and Health

By: Emma V. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, Maria Acosta, and Sally J. Geisse, San Francisco State University 

Every child deserves to lead a healthy, productive life. Research shows that health and education are connected—healthy students achieve more in school, and more education leads to a healthier, longer life. School-based physical activity (PA), including physical education (PE) has been linked with multiple learning and health benefits, including improved brain function, academic performance, heart health and body weight. Current US guidelines recommend that children engage in at least one hour of PA each day, but most do not. Schools can play a critically important role in this regard, yet few schools provide students the minimum recommended amount of daily PA. We have limited knowledge about how schools, especially low-resourced schools, focus on and implement strategies to help children be active.

This study investigated why and how a group of PA-supportive elementary schools prioritize and implement PA strategies to help students reach the minimum recommended amount of daily PA.


The main reason schools make PA a priority is because PA helps advance learning and health goals. The study participants mentioned they know from research and from direct experience (e.g., as teachers, principals) that PA can yield multiple learning-related benefits, including better focus in class and improved test scores. Additionally, PA is seen as a strategy to help reduce obesity and inactivity, improve physical, mental and behavioral health, and social and emotional learning. One respondent shared “You got to exercise their brains!”

A number of critical factors enable schools to strategize and put PA activities into action.

  • Policies and standards for PA and PE reinforce the importance of PA.
  • A culture of learning and health that considers PA as integral to learning and health.
  • Acceptance that PA adds value.
  • Funding and resources often drive decisions to put PA strategies in practice.


The results offer critical insights for policy and decision-makers to increase PA and PE in schools across the nation.

  • Policymakers can strengthen policies regarding PA/PE by including requirements for funding allocations, guidelines for implementation and compliance measures.
  • Everyone, including policymakers, advocates, schools and school districts, should create and foster a culture of learning and health that embraces the multiple benefits of PA.
  • Funding agencies can offer grants and technical assistance to support grant writing for low-resourced schools.
  • Schools and school districts can foster collaboration and networking. This includes ensuring that time and resources are available, such as professional development opportunities and conferences related to PA, for staff and community members to share ideas and use resources effectively.

Download the Report

A 14-page full report (PDF) and 2-page lay summary (PDF) are available.