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Health and Fitness, Health Disparities, Public Health, Technology

Creating safer neighborhoods for healthier lifestyles

hoodWalking sounds like a simple path to maintaining a healthy weight if you can’t afford a gym membership. But what if your neighborhood isn’t a safe space to walk or jog, or for your kids to play? Abby King, PhD, and scientists from Stanford Prevention Research Center‘s Healthy Aging Research and Technology Solutions lab have been working with residents of North Fair Oaks, Calif., to understand which environmental factors contribute to or detract from a healthy-living environment.

Participants used a GPS-powered Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool to survey the streets where they lived and provide information about which areas most need improvement in order to facilitate physical activity. During 36-minute walks, the middle-school-aged and older-adult participants collectively provided 224 audio and video recordings of their environment.

The low-income community of North Fair Oaks comprises 73 percent Latino residents. An article in Salud America! Growing Healthy Change reports:

“There are a lot of issues and challenges in the area,” [Priscilla Padilla-Romero, MPH, a public health educator at the Fair Oaks Center and a study author] said. “New immigrants face substantial challenges on a daily basis such as high unemployment rates, and significant social stressors.” Additionally, [Lisa Goldman Rosas, PhD, MPH] mentioned that, “Many immigrants point out that their lifestyles were naturally more active in their countries of origin and when they move to the US they have to think about how to get more physical activity for the first time.”

Among the findings, the piece notes:

The features that were reported as being facilitators of physical activity by the greatest number of participants were:

  • Having amenities and destinations to walk to
  • The presence of good quality sidewalks
  • The presence of parks, playgrounds and crosswalks
  • The aesthetic feel of the neighborhood (for example, attractive plants and well maintained homes)

The features that were reported as being barriers to physical activity by the greatest number of participants were:

  • Poor quality sidewalks
  • Trash and illegal dumping
  • Personal safety

At a June meeting with county officials the study participants, termed “citizen scientists,” discussed which factors of their environment were the greatest barriers to physical activity, hoping to influence local policy and strengthen their community.

Previously: Moderate exercise program for older adults reduces mobility disability, study showsHelp from a virtual friend goes a long way in boosting older adults’ physical activity and What type of smartphone apps are effective for promoting healthy habits among older adults?
Photo by Jukie Bot

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