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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Maryland Obesity Initiatives

Faculty researchers in the University of Maryland School of Public Health are studying a variety of factors that may influence obesity and chronic disease rates, including our built environments, family relationships and school settings, and designing intervention programs to positively impact lifestyle changes that can stem rising obesity rates. Activities of student organizations also have an influence as they aim to model healthy, active lifestyles. Here is an overview of some of the current initiatives at UMD:

Using Big Data to Understand Impact of Neighborhood Environments on Health

Dr. Quynh C. Nguyen, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, is using “big data” to increase the availability of data that can elucidate how our neighborhoods are affecting our health. Given that a person’s ZIP code is a stronger predictor of his or her overall health than many other factors and neighborhood environments are linked to an array of health outcomes, including mortality and chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes, yet gathering data on built environment characteristics remains time-consuming and expensive, her research seeks to streamline data gathering to help inform strategies for improving community health.

In a new study, she and her research team used Google Street View images and developed and refined computer vision algorithms to assess neighborhood features over large geographic areas including Salt Lake City, Utah; Charleston, West Virginia; and Chicago, Illinois. They also examined the associations between neighborhood features and the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in Salt Lake City. People living in zip codes with the highest proportion of green streets, crosswalks and commercial buildings/apartments were 25-28% less likely to be obese and 12-18% less likely to suffer from diabetes than those in neighborhoods with the least abundance of these features. She is optimistic that these methods will make data more available that will help advance our understanding of the impact of neighborhood characteristics on health. Read more:

Understanding how METRO’s Purple Line will Impact Neighborhood Health

Dr. Jennifer Roberts, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the Public Health Outcomes and Effects of the Built Environment (PHOEBE) Laboratory is engaged in a new study examining how the new Purple Line, a light rail being built as part of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority system, will affect the health of people living near it.

“Research has shown, when people live near public transportation they are more physically active,” Dr. Roberts said. This is because they walk from their homes to the public transportation stop and to nearby shopping and attractions as well.

Dr. Roberts is surveying 11,000 adults in a study area near the future Langley Park Purple Line stop, just a few miles from the University of Maryland, College Park campus. She will target households within a half-mile of the stop, and also a control group from one-half to three miles away from the stop. She will ask survey respondents about their public transit use and the types of active transportation they use: do they walk, bike or drive to the stop? She will survey adults and, where permission is granted, their children about their attitudes towards public transportation. A subset of the survey respondents will wear an activity monitor and GPS logger, keep a travel diary, and participate in focus group discussions.

Dr. Roberts plans to also conduct a follow-up survey in the same area, after the Purple Line has been built, to gauge changes in a variety of health outcomes. Learn more:

Prepared Parents, Healthy Youth – Intervention for Latino immigrant fathers and kids

Dr. Ali Hurtado, assistant professor of family science, is leading a family-based intervention, called Padres Preparados, Jovenes Saludables (Prepared Parents, Healthy Youth— Padres for short), that aims to increase father involvement in positive parenting practices to address youth energy balance-related behaviors (EBRBs) (i.e. sugar sweetened beverage, fruit and vegetable, and breakfast consumption; physical activity and sedentary behavior). While childhood obesity rates remain high among the general population, in many ethnic communities, they are even higher. Participants are the Padres program are Latino immigrant fathers with an adolescent youth (10 to 14 years old). The intervention uses a combination of in-person, online and phone systems for meetings and the delivery of educational messages. Dr. Hurtado will assess the effectiveness of the program and the various formats, which are designed to provide social support that works for working parents.  Findings from this study will inform a grant application to Agriculture and Food Research Initiative or National Institutes of Health Research to assess the efficacy of the blended intervention in a longitudinal and multi-site format.

Gymkana Troupe Promotes Healthy, Active Living to Area Youth

Throughout the 70-year history of the University of Maryland’s Gymkana student acrobatics troupe, they have served as “Ambassadors of Good Will,” performing initially in the 1950s for military service members, and by 1985, the troupe began to serve as an official outreach program of the School of Public Health, formerly known as the College of Health and Human Performance. It was at this time that the troupers first instituted the Gymkana pledge to live drug, alcohol, and tobacco free, which is signed annually by every member of the troupe. Each year, the troupe also performs at dozens of Maryland schools to promote and model their message of healthy, physically active lifestyles. The troupe also runs classes for children and adults throughout the year, as well as a six-week summer camp that attracts hundreds of area children who gain confidence in their physical abilities, regardless of experience, and learn from trouper role models. Learn more: