Issue 6, April 2011

Issue 6, April 2011

Active Living Research News

Highlights from the 8th Annual ALR Conference

A diverse gathering of researchers, practitioners, policy-makers and advocates convened at the eighth Active Living Research Annual Conference, held February 22-24, 2011 in downtown San Diego. This year’s theme, Partnerships for Progress in Active Living: From Research to Action, recognized the importance of engaging experts from multiple disciplines to address critical public health issues, especially active living and obesity. Keynote speaker Jonathan Lever, vice president for Health Strategy and Innovation of the Y of the USA’s Activate America initiative, shared lessons learned from the Y’s experience in building partnerships between diverse sectors, including academia and community-based organizations.

Congratulations to New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYC Active Design Guidelines team for receiving ALR’s fourth annual Translating Research to Policy Award.  The award recognizes innovative researchers, policy leaders or advocates—or teams of them—who have had success in catalyzing policy or environmental change of relevance to youth physical activity, sedentary behavior or obesity prevention. Karen Lee, Joyce Lee and Gayle Nicoll, members of the NYC Active Design Guidelines team, were present to accept the award.  Karen Lee led an ALR-funded evaluation of the guidelines to inform future revision, dissemination and utilization.A new video shows Karen Lee and Joyce Lee talking about the NYC Active Design Guidelines and how lessons their team learned from its experience can help other cities develop similar guidelines.

Videos of additional selected speakers from the conference, as well as videos on other related topics, can be found on the ALR YouTube channel.

New ALR Research

Research Briefs

Since our last newsletter, two ALR commissioned authors have finished and released research briefs:

The Potential of Safe, Secure and Accessible Playgrounds to Increase Children's Physical Activity summarizes research on the importance of playgrounds for children’s physical activity.

The Power of Trails for Promoting Physical Activity in Communities highlights findings about how trails can influence physical activity among diverse populations.

Special Journal Issue

Active Living Research supported the January 2011 supplement to the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.  This issue includes papers selected from abstracts submitted for presentation at Active Living Research's seventh annual conference in February 2010.  The theme of the 2010 annual conference was Engaging Communities to Create Active Living Environments.

Featured in this special issue is a new paper by Thomas Gotschi, a researcher with the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.  The study finds that during the next thirty years Portland residents could save as much as $594 million in health care costs because of the city’s investment in biking. Gotschi notes that this is the first study of its kind and that Portland's investments in bikeways "are cost-effective, even when only a limited selection of benefits is considered."  The study has received extensive media coverage, including in the Portland Tribune.

Grantee Studies

Children living in urban public housing play outdoors more than other urban children, according to a new study by lead author Rachel Kimbro. Kimbro and her colleagues also found that children who spent more time playing outside had lower body mass indices (BMIs) than children who spent more time watching television. Additionally, children were more likely to play outside for longer periods each day, watch less television and visit the park or playground more often each week if their mothers perceived higher levels of social trust in their neighborhoods.  According to Kimbro, "A key to solving obesity problems among poor, urban children is to create safe and open spaces where these kids can play, because now we know that they are outside playing." See media coverage of the study here.

Federal spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects varies across different local areas, and Susan Handy and Barbara McCann recently published a study identifying the factors that explain these spending differences. Since the funding goes to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs)—the organizations that guide local transportation planning—the study also considered whether such federal support has increased attention to biking and walking in the transportation planning process. Their findings show that making federal funding available for bicycle and pedestrian projects has clearly increased such projects across the United States, although more so in some regions than others. A key driver of MPO-level support for bike/ped investments is support from local government and advocacy groups. Another key factor is state policy, which can encourage and support bike/ped spending at the regional level. The authors include recommendations for how the next federal transportation authorization can increase the efficiency of bike/ped spending and reduce its dependency on state and local support.

Genevieve Dunton and colleagues published a study testing the feasibility, acceptability, and validity of an electronic Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) protocol to assess children's physical activity and sedentary behaviors. EMA uses electronic surveys administered on mobile phones to capture data about physical activity in real time. Dunton’s findings suggest that children were willing to complete surveys during physical activity and accurately reported their activities. Thus, electronic EMA with mobile phones could be a promising approach to understanding children's physical activity and sedentary behaviors.  Visit Mobile Healthy Places to learn more about this project.

Alan Melnick conducted a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to identify how the new Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan in Washington’s Clark County would impact residents’ health, and to recommend implementation strategies. The plan identifies projects, policies and programs that can facilitate cycling and walking, and was adopted in November 2010. Melnick’s assessment examines the likely impacts of the master plan based on prioritized proposals. David Levinger of the Rails to Trails Conservancy called this HIA “a best-in-class document mapping the proposed bike/ped master plan to health outcomes.”

Policy and Practice Impacts

Fitness Zones are outdoor gym installations at public parks that provide strength training, flexibility and cardio workouts. Deborah Cohen evaluated their impact on physical activity levels and park usage in parks across Los Angeles and her findings inspired the Trust for Public Land to install new fitness equipment in all Los Angeles county parks, amounting to 40 additional installments. Cohen’s work also provided the Trust for Public Land with in-house expertise on evaluation methods. In addition, HealthPartners in Minnesota will use Cohen’s findings to help decide if it should fund Fitness Zones locally.

In an ALR-funded study he led, Jeff Hallam examined how environmental factors might support physical activity for people of all ages in rural Alabama and Mississippi. For the project, Hallam and his colleagues interviewed Park Commission directors, city planners, county supervisors, law enforcement officials and experts on physical education in schools and in the process helped to increase awareness of physical activity and the role of the environment in each community. Results from the project helped one local Safe Routes to School program acquire funding from the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The findings also informed infrastructure changes, including the installation of new sidewalks, a new median, raised crosswalks, and efforts to connect sidewalks to a bicycle/pedestrian pathway. One of the cities involved in the project is considering adopting a policy that requires developers to contribute to the city’s complete streets objectives.

Stephanie Phibbs and her community partner, The Society of the Youth, presented findings from their community-based participatory research project to the 2040 Partners for Health Neighborhood Health Summit in Denver, Colorado in February. Their project, “Child’s Play: Solutions for Increasing Physical Activity in Distinct Safety Contexts,” was explored whether people living in neighborhoods with different levels of safety needed different interventions to increase youth physical activity.  Among the five neighborhoods included in this study is Stapleton, the largest urban renewal project in the U.S. that is replacing the previous Denver airport. The Society of the Youth members performed a skit to highlight the top 10 youth priorities to make neighborhoods "Safe, Free and Fun."  Dr. Chris Urbina, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and State Senator Michael Johnston were in attendance.

Grantee Highlights

Sara Benjamin will receive funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) to continue research that originally began with an ALR study. For her ALR-funded study, Benjamin assessed the impact of a new physical activity regulation in Massachusetts on children’s physical activity levels and Massachusetts child care center directors' knowledge of and compliance with the new physical activity policy after the policy implementation.  The new regulation required 60 minutes of physical activity for all children in child care centers,

Resources and Publications of Interest

The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) announced on Feb. 4 the launch of its Catalogue of Surveillance Systems, a new, free online resource to help researchers and practitioners more easily investigate childhood obesity in America.

State legislatures continue to be active in considering policy options to make the healthy choice the easy choice and to help provide children with healthier foods and more opportunities for safe, enjoyable physical activity throughout childhood. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a summary of state legislative actions on active living and healthy eating topics in 2010.

Newsletter Date: 
Friday, April 1, 2011