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Arnold School of Public Health

Arnold School researchers produce second supplement to report findings from the Healthy Communities Study

October 23, 2018 | Erin Bluvas,

Three years after members of the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group (CPARG) guest edited and co-authored a special issue on the National Institutes of Health-funded Healthy Communities Study (HCS) for the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the team has produced and co-authored a second supplement—this time in the journal Pediatric Obesity. Faculty and staff* from USC’s departments of exercise science (EXSC), health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB) and psychology contributed to the issue.

Funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and led by the Battelle Memorial Institute, HCS examined the links between characteristics of community programs and policies and body mass index (BMI), diet and physical activity among children. A diverse group of institutions and organizations collaborated on the project, including the University of South Carolina, University of California, Berkeley, University of Kansas, Battelle Memorial Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Leading public health organizations, including the CDC and the Institute of Medicine, have encouraged communities to implement programs and policies designed to increase physical activity, promote healthy eating, and reduce overweight and obesity in children,” says Russell Pate, professor of EXSC and director of CPARG. “Many communities have taken on this challenge; however, the long-term effects of these efforts were unknown, so HCS was designed to evaluate the success of these programs.”

Specifically, HCS examined community influences on overweight status and obesity in children and the associations between characteristics of community programs and policies and obesity-related outcomes. Using an innovative study design, this large-scale observational study included approximately 5,000 children and their families in 130 communities across the country.

The first supplement, published in 2015, provided a background for HCS, describing the history, purpose and protocols for the study. This new supplement provides findings from the study in eleven papers, three of which were led by Arnold School of Public Health faculty members.

HPEB associate professor Andrew Kaczynski is lead author on a paper that discusses the relationship between neighborhood quality attributes with physical activity among youth. The researchers examined how specific street quality attributes are associated with neighborhood- and street-based physical activity.

“We found that youth with no litter on their street reported significantly lower neighborhood-based physical activity and that youth living on a side street, cul-de-sac, dead end, or one-way street reported greater neighborhood-based physical activity,” says Kaczynski. “Based on this study, we believe that specific street quality attributes may be associated with youth physical activity and should be the focus of further research and collaborative urban and public health planning.”

Ruth Saunders, HPEB professor emerita, led a paper which makes regional comparisons of walking and bicycling for fun or exercise and for active transport. This component of the study found a variation in the prevalence among regions in relation to these activities.

“Walking and bicycling to school settings was less prevalent than walking and bicycling to other settings and for fun or exercise,” Saunders says. “We also found, based on regional gender and age patterns, that there appears to be more complexity in factors influencing active transport than recreational.”

Finally, Pate led the development of a paper on the overarching associations between community programs and policies and children’s physical activity, which revealed ethic disparities. For example, the researchers found that community programs and policies aimed at increasing physical activity were positively related to children’s physical activity but only among non-Hispanic children.

“This study shows that community initiatives to promote children's physical activity operate inconsistently across ethnicity groups,” Pate says. “Additional research is needed to identify community programs and positively influence physical activity for Hispanic children.”                                                                                                         

Three other papers within the supplement focused on dietary intake, such as whether community program and policies influence dietary intake and how community characteristics and clear objectives each play a role in this relationship. Two papers examine the intensity and prevalence of the community programs and policies while another looks at the longitudinal relationship between community programs and policies and BMI in children. A final two papers looked at as well as the connection between community characteristics and implementation of community programs and policies.

*USC contributors include Russell Pate, Edward Frongillo, Kerry McIver, Dawn Wilson, Ruth Saunders, Marsha Dowda, Andrew Kaczynski, and Gaye Christmus as well as recent Arnold School of Public Health graduates Gina Besenyi, Stephanie Child, Morgan Hughey.


CPARG produces special theme issue on the Healthy Communities Study

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