Issue 8, August 2011

Issue 8, August 2011

Active Living Research News

New ALR Resources

Four new briefs on parks and recreation are available from the University of California, Berkeley.  The briefs, based on Jennifer Wolch’s study, discuss how parks and recreation promote active living and help reduce childhood obesity. They also address racial, ethnic and income disparities in parks and recreation space and funding. 

Grantee Publications

Meena Fernandes and Roland Sturm published a study examining the relationship between school physical activity programs and children’s weight gain. The study looked at more than 8,200 children in 970 schools across the country to see if children who met the national standards for amount of time spent in recess and physical education (established by the National Association of Sport and Physical Education) experienced a decrease in their body mass index (BMI). Results show that children who met the recommended time for recess had a decrease in BMI. Meeting the recommendation for physical education was associated with a decrease in BMI among boys but not girls. Fernandes received the Judy K. Black Early Research Career Award for this paper. The award, presented by the American Academy of Health Behavior, recognizes early-career health behavior research that is innovative, rigorous and makes an important contribution to science or practice.

Findings from Amy Ries’ project examined the relationship between adolescents’ physical activity and their perceptions of access to and quality of recreational facilities. The study, which took place among predominantly African-American high school students in Baltimore, finds that adolescents who perceived having public facilities within a 5 minute drive or 10 minute walk of their home were twice as likely to use facilities for physical activity as adolescents who perceived less access. The study also reveals that even though adolescents perceived private facilities to be of higher quality, they were significantly more likely to use public facilities.  In addition, findings reveal that using public, but not private, facilities was significantly related to more time spent being physically active.

Natalie Colabianchi and colleagues published a study examining the effectiveness of playground renovations in increasing physical activity among children and adults. The study, conducted at 20 urban playgrounds in the Midwest, is the first of its kind to use direct observation and a detailed park assessment to examine whether specific features or amenities of parks or playgrounds (e.g. overall safety or cleanliness, total number of play features, shade coverage) is related to facility use or physical activity levels while at the facility.  The findings reveal that at renovated schoolyards, the total number of play features (e.g. monkey bars, slides, swings) was significantly related to higher levels of use by children and adults, and the amount of coverage/shade was significantly related to higher levels of use by adults and boys, but not girls. The authors conclude that modifying playgrounds to have more play features and greater shade coverage may increase the utilization of these facilities outside of school time.

Policy and Practice Impacts

Findings from Georgia Hall and Jean Wiecha’s study contributed to the development of new healthy eating and physical activity (HEPA) standards that were recently adopted by the National Afterschool Association (NAA) and endorsed by the National Physical Activity Plan. The study assessed current out-of-school-time physical activity and healthy eating policies and practices to inform the development of new policies with more rigorous content and provide guidance and language in the NAA standards.  These are the first detailed HEPA standards adopted by the NAA.  The researchers and the NAA plan to disseminate the new standards through the national Healthy Out-of-School-Time coalition.

Grantee Highlights

Janice Johnson Dias, a sociologist and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Active Living Research-New Connections grantee, has joined efforts with Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, co-founder and lead MC of the Grammy Award Winning group the Roots to create GrassROOTS Community Foundation (GCF). GCF merges the talents of socially conscious artists with those of a rigorous scientific research and creative team to reduce obesity and improve physical activity among impoverished women and girls. Building on Michelle Obama’s commitment to reduce obesity, GCF has launched Let’s Move It initiatives in Philadelphia at Harding Middle School and in Greensboro, N.C. at Bennett College. If you are a researcher or policymaker interested in working with and/or supporting GCF, please go to its website.

Abigail Gamble’s project provides evidence to support the need for places and policies that promote children’s physical activity. In her study, overweight children who had the opportunity to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity were among the most active of all students.  Gamble believes that the 150 minutes per week of physical activity in schools mandated by the Mississippi Healthy Students Act would go a long way in the battle against childhood obesity in the Delta.  "If the [Mississippi] Healthy Students Act was habitually enforced," she says, "the children of my study would likely use the time to be active and subsequently experience the myriad of health benefits that regular exercise affords." Read the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s profile of Dr. Gamble.

Resources and Publications of Interest

The F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011 report is now available.  The report, which is produced jointly by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that adult obesity rates have increased in 16 states and have declined in no states. The report also finds that racial and ethnic minority and lower-income adults continue to have the highest obesity rates. The report includes recommendations for how policymakers can reverse the obesity epidemic among both adults and children, with an emphasis on creating policies and environments that support healthier eating and more physical activity.

The CDC Winnable Battles initiative has a set of new resources on nutrition, physical activity and obesity, among other topics. Resources include PowerPoint slides, fact sheets, policy briefs, best practices, and Vital Signs. The Winnable Battles initiative is a CDC effort to identify public health priorities which leaders have known effective strategies to address, and to implement those strategies to achieve measurable impact quickly.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) has developed a health and transportation toolkit to bridge the communications gap between the public health and transportation communities. The toolkit, which includes talking points and outreach materials, is an attempt to create a common language for use by public health advocates that ensures their voices are heard by transportation planners and other related professionals.

The Partnership for Prevention has collaborated with the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) at UC Berkeley, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the CDC to produce "Transportation and Health: Policy Interventions for Safer, Healthier People and Communities." This report examines the effects of transportation policies on public health in three key areas—environment and environmental public health, community design and active transportation, and motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities. The report finds that installing streetlights, new sidewalks, and bicycle-friendly infrastructure can have immediate positive effects, and incorporating bicycle boulevards or greenways into comprehensive community plans will likely bring about changes over time.

Newsletter Date: 
Monday, August 1, 2011