Post-MOVE Congress Interview Series: Veronica Reynolds, Intelligent Health (UK)
To Intelligent Health in England, walking is not just an easy and highly accessible form of physical activity – it is a “real-life game”. Why? Because that’s what they have turned walking into for thousands of school children and regular citizens in England and abroad through their Beat the Street programme, which uses an interactive system to allow walkers to track their own miles and compete for prizes.
Beat the Street started as an initiative to encourage school children to walk to school rather than taking the bus or getting a lift from their parents. The ‘Beat’ part of the name refers to the ‘beatboxes’, or sensor boxes, fixed to posts along walking routes in different neighbourhoods. To take part in the competition (as part of the Global Walk to School project), the children were given a card they could swipe on the beatboxes on their way to school, which registered their points in an online system. The students could collect points towards prizes for their schools, individual prizes and support for a charity of their choice. In 2012 and 2013, children from England, Canada, China and the US took part in Beat the Street and over 4,000 children participated in 2012 alone.
This year, Intelligent Health expanded the Beat the Street concept to the broader community. They used Caversham in England as a test bed for the programme’s “Community Model” and its citizens tracked over 51,000 miles (82,000 kilometres) in three months, which was more than double the target amount, earning £6,000 for their local library and schools.
Veronica Reynolds, Beat the Street’s Project Director, presented results from the community programme at the MOVE Congress in October. She shared some of the key strategies behind the programme’s success, including getting older people involved in the initiative by trained local doctors (GPs) to communicate the benefits of the programme to their patients and issue swipe cards to them.
“13% of the population in the UK see their GP once a fortnight, so GPs are an important marketing tool for promoting physical activity,” Reynolds said.
ISCA asked Reynolds more about the programme, its strategy of using GPs to get their citizens to engage more in sport and physical activity initiatives and its prospects for the future. Keep an eye on ISCA’s website for more on Beat the Street and the growing challenge to encourage children to walk to school.
Q: You said in your MOVE Congress presentation that doctors played a key role in physical activity in your project. How did you find working with doctors in your project?
A: I think with doctors, if they understand the value of physical activity and sports they’re very cooperative. But many of the doctors, especially in England, don’t really appreciate what an important role physical activity can play, not just in preventing disease, but actually in treating certain diseases. So there is a job to educate doctors still, and that’s part of an ongoing process, to make doctors aware of what it can mean, and how it can be a better intervention for their patients. Most patients would prefer to receive advice about exercise than a drug or a pill, and the more doctors appreciate this, the more they will be receptive. But there’s still some work to be done to get them to fully understand the benefits.
Q: You mention educating doctors – do you provide the data that you collect to doctors as well as data from the WHO?
A: It’s very much about looking at the evidence base, and the evidence around physical activity is growing all the time, especially in the last few years. So it’s not surprising that doctors who were trained 10-20 years ago aren’t aware of this. So it’s about getting the evidence base and showing them the facts. And we have good studies now across a large number of people that evidence is incontrovertible; they cannot argue with it when they see it. So part of the process is providing them with the evidence, but also explaining how simple the solution can be. Because even if the doctors know the benefits, how do they get that patient from their surgery room to go and do something? So we actually make them meet with the people who are providing activities and get them to talk to each other about how to engage their patients.
Q: How do you plan to make your project sustainable?
A: I think the sustainability of our project comes from lots and lots of people, huge numbers of people being able to participate and being able to demonstrate the cost benefit. The system we use collects date; it collects real time data of people walking and cycling. We can take that data and extrapolate figures that will show the cost benefit of what we’re doing and that is what will create the sustainability. Because if we can demonstrate a cost saving, then there will be more investment from health, from transport and from environment in what we’re doing. So it’s always about demonstrating the value of what you’re doing.
Q: How do you make sure that the data you’re collecting is credible?
A: The system is quite intelligent; it dismisses multiple swipes, so it discounts those. When you get a whole community doing it, they don’t allow each other to cheat. In the first few days there are a few people who try to drive around and within minutes there are children saying, “Well, you’re cheating – don’t.” And children are very good judges and very good referees. So that stops usually straight away. We also say to people we can tell from the time stamp the time they’ve taken, and if it’s too short we say you can’t win a prize because you’ve obviously driven. So it’s not usually a problem.
Read more about Beat the Street here
Read more about Beat the Street Caversham here