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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Maryland: Tackling Obesity with Initiatives in Schools, on Trains, and in Parks

The University of Maryland School of Public Health is examining the role of physical activity in health throughout the lifespan, via a number of projects led by departments across the school and in partnership with the local community. Here are several examples.

Kinesiology’s Dr. Jennifer Roberts’ Public Health Outcomes and Effects of the Built Environment (PHOEBE) Laboratory is engaged in multiple studies exploring physical activity and various built environments, including public transportation and county parks:

The Built Environment and Active Play (BEAP) Study will provide a broad view of factors, specifically neighborhood and/or social factors, influencing the level and type of active play among children in the Washington, DC region. Research has demonstrated that children who participate in active play are more likely to be physically active, and therefore healthier.

The Physical Environment and Active Transportation (PEAT) Study will evaluate how the new Silver Line Metrorail of the Washington, DC rapid transit system contributes to adolescent active transportation habits and how these transportation habits can potentially affect physical activity levels and overweight/obesity rates. Active transportation, such as walking, biking or using public transportation as a means of getting around has increasingly been viewed as a way to increase physical activity levels in youth and thus reduce overweight or obesity levels.

For the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation (PG-Parks) Project, the PHOEBE Lab will provide consultation to the PG-Parks for the execution of a Health Impact Assessment for their “Formula 40: Functional Master Plan for Parks, Recreation and Open Space” Trail Master Plan.

The Wellness Champions project is being conducted by an interdisciplinary team including faculty from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, the School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, the College of Arts and Humanities, and Extension at the University of Maryland, together with the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. This study, co-led by SPH’s Dr. Brit Saksvig, is looking at reducing childhood obesity in Maryland through healthier school environments. The project focuses on school-level implementation of Local Wellness Policies in 30 elementary and middle schools around the state. The intervention develops leader/advocates among school teachers and students who will become “wellness champions” and lead teams trained in the tenets of health literacy, so that messages about healthy behaviors are tailored appropriately for different groups.

In the THINC lab (Technologies of Health IN Context), Dr. Shannon Jette leads a team in looking at technologies that are commonplace in the health and fitness experience: fitness trackers and apps, scales and calipers, and other techniques and tools that monitor, assess and advance health. The lab looks at how they shape attitudes about bodies and health (both physical and mental), and which bodies they exclude, marginalize or stigmatize. Dr. Jette is also examining the use of digital technology in schools to collect, analyze and disseminate children’s fitness data as part of the fight against obesity. The project will inform wider discussions about the use of standardized testing and ‘big data’ in shaping public policy and practice. Additionally, she is working with the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission to develop metrics to assess health-related components of their programming.