Letter to Surgeon General on Call to Action on Walking

Submitted on April 30, 2013 with 39 organizations signing on!

Office of Surgeon General
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington DC 20201

To Office of Surgeon General:

Many organizations are meeting under the banner of Every Body Walk Collaborative, a new broad-based partnership formed to inspire and grow a multi-sectoral strategy to advance walking and walkability in the United States. The Collaborative is serving as a nexus of a growing walking movement by building a partnership through coordinated action and by supporting the many dispersed campaigns and community-based projects.  The undersigned organizations (listed at the end of this letter) applaud and fully support the Office of the Surgeon General’s efforts to advance walking through a proposed call to action on walking.

In this letter, we provide:

  • Background on sample benefits that increased walking and walkable communities could yield in the U.S.
  • Goals and framing that could be integrated into the proposed call to action
  • Principles and Actions that we recommend be integrated into the proposed call to action


Walking is the first and most fundamental form of transportation, the most basic type of physical activity and the most popular outdoor recreation. We believe that walking for everyone (including people with disabilities) leads to healthier people, vibrant economies, environmental sustainability, and a higher quality of life.

Walking brings incredible benefits to communities throughout the nation. These include:

  • Walking is an easy, accessible, and inexpensive form of physical activity; adults that get 150 minutes a week (even as three ten minutes bouts of walking per day) will meet recommended physical activity guidelines.
  • Walking is for everyone, including seniors, people with disabilities and those needing assistive devices, etc.
  • Walking drastically reduces medical costs.  See this incredible video that outlines the health benefits.
  • People walking on small town main streets and suburban town centers are indicators of an economically vibrant area.
  • People walking are the indicator of economically vibrant areas, including main streets in small towns, and suburban town centers.
  • More people walking means more eyes on the street, therefore increasing security.
  • Walking is a basic human right that is commonplace in many civil rights movements.
  • Walking is wonderful recreation and perfect way to enjoy our natural environment.

Goals and Framing:

We suggest that the proposed call to action on walking adopt the two primary goals, as laid out by the Every Body Walk Collaborative:

  1. Walking – encourage everyone to walk
  2. Walkability – advance investments, policies and practices that make communities more walkable

We suggest adopting a few key frames for the proposed call to action, as follows:

  • Walking is a fundamental human right and is accepted as the norm in society
  • There will be “safe places and routes for all people to walk and roll
    • ”Walking is the mode of choice for trips under one mile (approximately 5-20 minute walks.)

Principles and Actions

In order to meet these goals, it is important that the strategies and approach embrace the broad range of co-benefits walking provides– healthier people, vibrant economies, environmental sustainability, social equity, a higher quality of life, etc. We believe that the proposed call to action should focus on fewer high priority key principles and strategies that span these co-benefits; this will be more impactful than listing a comprehensive set of actions or strategies without focus.

Below are our recommendations for focused co-benefit action.

Equal Access for All to Walk

All people should have access to safe and comfortable walking environments and to be able walk to important destinations:

  • Ensure that people of all ages and abilities can safely walk. Reduce disparities in crash and fatalities by investing in underserved areas and those with high crash rates.
  • Provide walkable neighborhoods with housing options for all and ensure neighborhoods that become more walkable do not displace lower income people.

Connecting People and Places with Walking

Walkable communities help connect people to each other and places:

  • Set and realize goals of people living within a 20-minute walk of transit and key destinations.
  • Enhance zoning and other land use policies to promote development and infrastructure investments that connect people where they live, work, shop, play and pray.
  • Improve connections and transportation corridors between spaces – assess and fix gaps in infrastructure.
  • Implement building codes that facilitate walking, both into and around buildings.

Families and Children Increase Walking

Walking is the perfect way for families to spend time, engage in physical activity, and increase vibrancy of neighborhoods:

  • Increase walking to and from school.
    • Improve access to parks and green spaces, including developing joint use agreements to create more play spaces.

Research and Data Collection

Communities know very little about how, why and where people walk in their community:

  • Develop performance standards to increase walking and pedestrian safety in communities.
  • Develop comprehensive inventories of walking paths, sidewalks, and street crossings.
  • Develop a synthesis of research, tools, and utility of walking.

Integrate Walking into Organizational Practices

Integrating walking into organizational practices can help children and adults meet the Federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, improves brain function, and reduces the negative impacts of sitting:

  • Encourage organizations to turn sitting meetings into walking meetings.
    • Work with the conference industry to build walking in its agenda to insure that participants obtain daily recommended physical activity.
    • Include walking as a vital sign that is addressed during office visits.
    • Host special events in communities that promote walking.

Federal Cross Agency Collaboration

The Office of the Surgeon General will work to integrate walking into federal agencies:

  • Coordinate across federal agencies through the National Prevention Council, aiming to have other agencies incorporate walking into their organizational missions, implementation plans, and employees’ workdays.

This letter is co-signed and submitted by the following organizations:

Active Transportation Alliance
Alliance for Biking and Walking
America Walks
American College of Sports Medicine
American Council on Exercise
American Heart Association
Arthrits Foundation
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals
Catrine Tudor-Locke,PhD,FACSM-Associate Professor, Pennington Biomedical Research Center
ChangeLab Solutions
Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, a program of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Greenwood District UNC Health Alliance
Health By Design, an Alliance for Health Promotion initiative
Idaho Pedestrain and Bicycle Alliance
Idaho Smart Growth
John Wesley Health Education Center
Kaiser Permanente
League of American Bicyclists
LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers
National Association of County and City Health Officials
National Complete Streets Coalition
National Parks Conservation Association
National Physical Activity Plan Alliance
National PTA
South Orange County/Maplewood Bike & Walk Coalition
Partners for Health Foundation & Eat.Play.Live…Better-Montclair, NJ
Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety (PEDS)
Rails to Trails Conservancy
Safe Routes to School National Partnership
The Alliance for a Healthy Orange County
The Institute of Transportation Engineers
Transportation 4 America
Walk Sitka
YMCA of the USA