Wheeling, West Virginia:
It About Time You Started Walking?”
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
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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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.
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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