2012 Winner

Dr. James Sallis, Distinguished Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego

Widely regarded as a leading expert on human behaviour and its influence on fitness, Dr. Sallis began his career investigating how to successfully encourage individuals to incorporate physical activity into their lives. Sallis quickly realized that, although people could be influenced to adapt their routines to include regular exercise, such changes were rarely permanent, and within six to twelve months people would revert back to their original, unhealthier habits.

This realization led Sallis to the question that would form the foundation of his acclaimed research: What are the root causes of inactivity, and how does the urban environment we live in — and in particular the layout of our cities and neighborhoods — make it easier or more difficult to stay in shape?

“The role that our physical environment plays in our ability to stay fit is one of the areas of research in the field of active health that has been completely overlooked until very recently, and so we are delighted to honour Dr. James Sallis, whose studies are having a significant impact in helping us understand this crucial link between the built environment and the barriers they present to healthy living,” said Hélène Perrault, Dean of McGill’s Faculty of Education.

The jury, made up of leading academics from the field of active health, was most impressed by Sallis’s efforts to take his research findings beyond the laboratory and turn them into practical applications. For example, through the Built Environment Assessment Training (BEAT) Institute, he has helped create a free, online course that teaches researchers, policymakers and others how to assess their local environment — including streetscapes, parks and trails — for physical activity.

Dr. Sallis has also presented his findings to legislators and other policy leaders, including members of the U.S. Congress, First Lady Michelle Obama and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – all part of an effort to affect policy change through evidence-based research.

In addition to his academic appointment at UCSD, Dr. Sallis also serves as the director of the Active Living Research Program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; he has been recognized with numerous honours and awards, including a Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the Vice Presidency of the American College of Sports Medicine, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. 

Dr. Sallis accepted the prize at a special ceremony on January 21, at the MaRS Centre in Toronto, where he took part in a conversation about his research. This event was followed by a roundtable discussion on January 23,at McGill University in Montreal, where local experts joined the prizewinner to explore the topic of the built environment and active health.