History of ALBD

About Active Living By Design, building healthy communities

Active Living By Design (ALBD) launched in 2002 in response to the growing national crisis of physical inactivity, obesity, and chronic disease. ALBD was established as a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and initially focused on increasing routine physical activity by improving the environments in which people live, travel, work, and play.

ALBD was at the forefront of the “active living movement,” a new paradigm that challenged the thinking that health is primarily a matter of individual choice (and thus requires more programs and education). The active living movement shifted the conversation to include the role of policies and social and physical environments in the choices people have to be physically active.

Over time, research confirmed the importance of an expanded focus on community-based approaches to improve access to both healthy eating and physical activity, especially in areas at highest risk for obesity and other chronic diseases based on race, ethnicity, income, and/or geographic location. Simultaneously, ALBD expanded its focus to include active living, healthy eating, and other social determinants of health as we supported a variety of local, state, and national partners in their work to create healthy communities for all.

ALBD was part of the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, from its inception until February 1, 2014. It is now a fiscally-sponsored project of Third Sector New England and continues to be based in Chapel Hill, NC.

What is Active Living?

Active living is a way of life that integrates physical activity into daily routines. Individuals may achieve this by: walking or bicycling for transportation, exercise, or pleasure; playing in the park; working in the yard; taking the stairs; and using recreation facilities; but some individuals may face barriers to those activities within their communities. Active Living By Design works with communities to build a culture of active living, with policies and environmental changes that remove barriers and increase easy access to opportunities for active transportation and active play.

What is Healthy Eating?

Healthy eating is a way of life and is influenced by what we eat, how much we eat, and how it is prepared. Individuals may achieve healthy eating by consuming appropriate portion sizes, balancing how often foods and beverages are consumed, and choosing foods that are prepared using healthy cooking methods. However, some individuals may face barriers to those activities within their communities. Active Living By Design works with communities to build a culture of healthy eating with policies and environmental changes that support easy access to healthy, affordable foods. Healthy foods and beverages are moderate in calories and rich in vitamins and minerals.


As a leader in the national healthy eating and active living (HEAL) movement, Active Living By Design (ALBD) believes that “walking the talk” is integral to our credibility as an organization and to our integrity as professionals. ALBD’s principles, policies, and practices help ensure we present consistent messages and model the changes we are trying to create in the communities and with the clients we serve. ALBD posts our principles, policies, and practices regarding active living and healthy on our website, shares them with prospective staff members and partners, regularly assesses individual and organizational commitment to them, and seeks opportunities for continuous improvement.

Guiding Principles

  • ALBD works with communities to improve health. We believe in the power of people to reshape the places where they live and the policies, systems, and environments that define their choices.
  • ALBD embraces the idea of continuous improvement. We recognize and respect that individuals and communities are at different points in their readiness and ability to make changes. We do not subscribe to a “one size fits all” approach but rather strive to meet individuals and communities where they are to help them move along a continuum toward better health.
  • ALBD works with a variety of clients, each of whom have unique objectives and goals. Our principles, policies, and practices related to active living and healthy eating are broad enough to accommodate various perspectives (e.g., “healthy, sustainable communities” and “reduction of childhood obesity”).
  • ALBD recognizes that the science with respect to active living and healthy eating continues to evolve. We are committed to grounding our work in the best evidence available from the most credible sources.
  • ALBD understands that there are many complex systems and factors which determine the health of communities. We work within the common denominators of these intersecting issue areas, and partner with others to strengthen our impact.

Policies and Practices

ALBD’s organizational policies and practices related to active living and healthy eating provide a foundation for modeling the strategies, interventions, and behaviors we seek to influence in the communities with which we work.

  • ALBD’s office environment offers accessible options for routine physical activity and healthy eating.
  • ALBD chooses vendors and meeting sites that offer accessible options for routine physical activity and healthy eating.
  • ALBD provides supports to encourage routine physical activity, including but not limited to: subsidizing gym memberships; providing flex time for physical activity; offering up to two hours weekly of paid work time for physical activity; providing access to safe and inviting stairwells; encouraging walking meetings and physical activity breaks during extended meetings; and using public or active transportation when possible.
  • ALBD identifies and offers options to accommodate individuals with varying levels of ability so all employees can fully participate in group physical activities.
  • ALBD provides supports to encourage healthy eating, including offering healthy snacks and beverages in reasonably-sized portions at ALBD-sponsored meetings and events; providing healthy choices for celebrations, such as birthdays and holidays; and encouraging non-food related celebrations such as those incorporating physical activity and the arts.
  • ALBD commits to a “no dumping” policy in which we avoid bringing candy, cookies, cakes, and other foods and beverages of limited nutritional value into the office for group consumption.
  • ALBD accommodates individuals with food allergies or other dietary restrictions so everyone has options for healthy eating.
  • ALBD encourages good stewardship to the environment by avoiding the purchase of bottled or canned beverages when healthy options are available in bulk (e.g., pitchers of water rather than individual bottles); selecting food and beverages packed in recyclable containers when possible; choosing locally-grown food when healthy, affordable options exist; and reducing, reusing, and recycling in order to generate less waste.
  • ALBD encourages the use of language that is positive, encouraging, and supportive of healthy attitudes and behaviors (e.g., referring to the “bike rack” rather than “parking lot” when identifying issues to be discussed at a later time).
  • ALBD does not offer food or physical activity as a gift, prize reward, or penalty (e.g., while food may be provided at meetings, we do not use it as an enticement for attendance; we do not routinely cancel or delay planned breaks for physical activity due to work-related interruptions).


  1. Eat Smart North Carolina: Guidelines for Healthy Foods and Beverages at Meetings, Gatherings and Events. NC Department of Health and Human Services.http://www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com/HealthyMeetingGuide/HealthyMeetingGuide.html
  2. Guidelines for Offering Healthy Foods at Meetings, Seminars and Catered Events. University of Minnesota School of Public Health. http://www.sph.umn.edu/pdf/news/pubs/NutritionGuide2009.pdf
  3. Setting the Bar: Recommendations for Food and Beverage Industry Action. Strategic Alliance.http://eatbettermovemore.org/sa/fruit/settingthebar.pdf
  4. ChooseMyPlate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
  5. Physical Activity and Health: A Report from the Surgeon General. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/fact.htm