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Wheeling, West Virginia:

“Isn’t It About Time You Started Walking?”

Program Description: Wheeling Walks

Wheeling Walks premiered in 2001 as an eight-week “media-plus” campaign to encourage residents, especially those age 50-65, to walk 30 minutes a day on most days.20

West Virginia state map - click for long description
The campaign slogan, “Isn’t it about time you started walking?” encouraged residents to walk in ten-minute increments. (This attainable goal achieves the same physical benefits as a single 30-minute block.) Developed with community focus groups to address the concern that people were too busy to exercise, the slogan was conveyed in paid media ads that appeared during high-profile times, such as the popular TV show, “Survivor.” Additional outlets included radio ads, news stories, newspaper articles, and other promotions.

In combination with the media campaign, Wheeling Walks endorsed safe walking on sidewalks, near worksites, on trails, and in shopping malls. Various community-wide walking events provided residents with special opportunities to start walking.

Local physicians supported the campaign by writing “walking prescriptions” for patients. Additionally, worksites and the faith community were mobilized to provide consistent encouragement.

In early spring 2002, a five-week “booster” campaign reminded residents of the benefits of walking. In other health education campaigns, boosters had a significant effect on maintaining or increasing levels of activity.21

Number of Participants: A Community Responds

Wheeling Walks enrolled 2,248 residents, who collectively logged 28,827 miles during the campaign. It is unknown how many other residents began walking, but were not enrolled in the program.

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Partners: Media and the Community

  • Local media outlets: In its media market, Wheeling Walks was the third leading advertisement buyer during the campaign. Further leveraging this advertising budget, media outlets provided incentives such as a two-for-one advertisement purchase (though the time of broadcast was not chosen by Wheeling Walks).

  • The City of Wheeling, including the mayor’s office; the sheriff and police departments; and the county health department
  • Worksites
  • Hospitals and physicians
  • Faith community
  • Community groups, particularly the Rotary Club
  • West Virginia University’s (WVU) Department of Community Medicine

The Bottom Line: Funding

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provided approximately $350,000 during a 23-month period for this project. The state bureau of public health and a local foundation provided additional funding.

Future Plans: Booster Campaigns and Dissemination

  • A 2002 booster campaign re-invigorated Wheeling residents to the idea of walking.

  • WVU will write a manual so other communities can replicate the campaign.

  • Program coordinators would like to include multi-generational messages and contribute to policy and environmental changes that promote walking.

Media sells pizza and cars. Why not health?
– Holli Smith, Wheeling Walks project coordinator.

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Evaluation: Data Document Program Effect

Of the four communities discussed in this document, the Wheeling campaign provides the only outcome evaluation. As mentioned, nearly 2,300 residents participated in the 2001 campaign; only 1,000 were expected. The initial program yielded a 14 percent increase in walking; 30 percent of surveyed older adults reported walking 30 minutes or more a day, at least five days a week, while only 16 percent of older residents in a comparison community reported the same activity level. In contrast, an evaluation of a separate health initiative found that 7-10 percent of the population exposed to the media campaign reported changing their behavior as a result of the campaign.22

Research shows that extensive media campaigns produce a greater effect than smaller-scale campaigns; most media campaigns reach only about 40 percent of the target audience.23 The Wheeling Walks campaign far exceeded that. Ninety percent of residents knew about the campaign. Of these, 70 percent saw television ads, 77 percent heard radio ads, and 81 percent saw or heard news stories.

The evaluation also pointed to areas for future improvement. Although 40 worksites were involved, only 5 percent of surveyed residents had heard about the campaign at work. Only 4 percent heard about it through their faith community.

WVU will conduct a similar outcome evaluation on the booster campaign.

Biggest Successes: Campaign Messages and Increased Activity

  • Powerful media messages encouraged residents to walk in short and realistic time frames (ten minute blocks).
    The 14 percent increase in walking demonstrates that the media could reach a large audience to encourage healthy behaviors.

  • Residents responded to the chosen media message, demonstrating the benefits of early input from stakeholders.

  • Classes, prescriptions from health care professionals, worksite promotion, and organized events also reinforced the campaign messages throughout the community. A post-campaign Walkable Wheeling Task Force will focus on furthering these goals.

Biggest Obstacle

The program planners reported no major obstacles to this eight-week campaign. The community collaboration and support led to increases in activity.

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