The Active Living Council of San Antonio (ALCSA) is a four-year-old volunteer organization that serves as a permanent fixture on the Mayor’s Fitness Council. As the chair of the Active Living Council, I took part in the drafting the Active Living Plan for a Healthier San Antonio, a local adaptation of the National Physical Activity Plan.
The role of the ALCSA is to influence physical activity in our community through the development and promotion of this 3-5 year master plan to promote active living, reduce sedentary behavior (couch surfing, for example) and increase physical activity.
This document, a living document that requires regular updating, was created using several guiding principles, including:
- Increasing physical activity will improve the health and wellness of individuals in our community.
- Making the healthy choice the easy choice in our local communities, where we live, work, pray, and play, is everyone’s business.
- The plan recognizes that individuals are impacted not just by their own personal attributes and behavior, but also by political, societal and environmental influences (this understanding is often described as the ecological model of health behavior).
- Our success is dependent upon engaging leadership and working collaboratively to determine the content of the plan and to implement the plan. At the same time using evidence-based strategies and best practices and evaluating effectiveness are equally important.
- All socio-demographic groups will benefit from initiatives proposed by this plan.
The work of the ACLSA was underwritten by a federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control. The final document, in fact, was to be submitted to the CDC as a requirement of the grant.
In the course of developing this more than 30-page document – a plan that seeks to engage various sectors of the community to make promotion of physical activity a health priority for our city – we ran into an 11th hour snag.
Nowhere in the final document will you find the words “advocate” or “advocacy.” Despite the strong feelings of the ACLSA members that the plan should advocate for both transformative and subtle changes to promote healthier living, we conceded to concerns from leaders of the Metropolitan Health District and removed any references to advocacy. City health leaders worried that the term advocacy could be construed as a metaphor for lobbying, which would endanger a grant stipulation that federal funds not be used for lobbying activities. They plainly stated they would have to remove their support of the plan if the wording remained.
This seems like a minor point but in fact it was a cause of great consternation among most of the 20 ACLSA members, who devoted hundreds of hours a month over the course of two years to develop the Active Living Plan. This was a community-driven effort, and we felt a major component of its effectiveness was hobbled by these last-minute changes to substance and form.
I co-authored an article recently published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health that details the development of the Active Living plan for San Antonio. With co-authors and fellow ACLSA members Laura A. Esparza and Katherine S. Velasquez, we recount the past, present and future of the ACLSA, which has cut ties to Metro Health but has been embraced by the Mayor’s Fitness Council.
Helping develop a community-wide plan to combat chronic disease and obesity linked to physical inactivity has been one of the great highlights of my career as a healthcare provider. And like all great achievements, it came with struggle and lessons learned.
We are eager to build on the Active Living Plan and look at models in other countries that could be adopted here to help us become a healthier, more active place to live work and play.
We’ll explore some of those international models in a future edition of Body Shots.
Dr. Annette “Doctor Z Md” Zaharoff heads the Non-Surgical Center of Texas, focusing on non-surgical alternatives to relieve pain and repair injuries. A former professional tennis player who competed in the WTC circuit, Dr. Zaharoff remains actively involved with the US Tennis Association. Learn more about her at www.drzmd.com.