Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Take-Aways from the 2012 BEAT Institute

Conducting a Boston park audit.
The Built Environment Assessment Training (BEAT) Institute is a week-long program designed to educate investigators and practitioners on tangible skills to measure aspects of built environment believed to have an effect on health. This year’s Institute included 30 fellows from around the country, as well as Canada, Brazil and Colombia.

“The BEAT Institute was an amazing training opportunity that I found highly useful to inform my work in the built environment,” said Gretchen Armijo, PSD Built Environments Coordinator, who represented Colorado at the training. “The tools we learned, including walking audits, neighborhood audits, and food environment audits, can be used by health agencies, municipal governments and grass roots organizations to assess their local environments and advocate for change,” she said.

Here is a select recap of Gretchen’s key take-aways from the program:
  • Vancouver: A researcher is using GPS with older adults to measure whether they spend more time being physically active in their communities if the neighborhood is considered ‘walkable’. This has implications for mobility of seniors, as studies are showing that while seniors would like to stay in their communities, they tend to move out of auto-centric suburbs and seek more walkable environments. 
  • Stanford: A researcher gives tablets to Latina senior citizens in her nutrition study to take photos, record audio, and complete surveys while walking to their neighborhood markets, to document the pedestrian and grocery store environment. 
  • Miami: The University of Miami developed a 3-day curriculum called “Walksafe” for use in elementary schools to reduce accidents and improve walkability around elementary schools. GIS is used to map the locations where children have been hit by cars and document potential engineering modifications to prevent accidents. The curriculum is free and can be downloaded for use in schools outside of Florida. A portion of the money from school zone speeding tickets goes to hire more school crossing guards. 
  • Seattle: Interdisciplinary partners can be very valuable to add depth to programs. One researcher is working with war veterans who suffer from PTSD and have a high risk for obesity and chronic disease due to environmental triggers and social isolation. The researcher is using GIS to map the neighborhood areas which trigger safety concerns, and will work with a criminologist using fear models to tailor environmental interventions to facilitate increased physical activity. 
  • Mobile apps are being created for many audit tools to allow researchers to collect more data using more surveyors. 
  • Baltimore: A research project at the Center of Human Nutrition, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, found through a series of focus groups that the word “healthy” connoted bland and tasteless food, whereas the word “fresh” implied tasty, homemade or homegrown. The program used “fresh” and a green-leaf logo on menu labels to identify foods which met nutritional criteria. 
  • New York City: hosts a free annual workshop, “Fit City: Promoting Physical Activity Through Design”, open to the public to examine how design of the built environment creates opportunities for increasing physical activity and access to healthier food choices. 
  • Japan: A national law was passed in 2008 that requires all Japanese ages 40-74 have to have their waistlines measured annually. Employers whose employees fail to meet national standards are fined. 
  • Denmark: Like some other European countries, Denmark has higher fees on sugar, chocolates and soft drinks. There is free and easy access to fruit in all workplaces. 
  • A variety of audit tools are available for local community use to identify and address built environment deficiencies in locations such as parks, neighborhoods, downtown areas and trails. Choose the tool that fits your purpose, resources, timeframe, likelihood to implement change. Conducting audits empowers communities. 
  • A new index, State of Place, measures the overall score of the built environment in any city. Like a “credit rating” for neighborhoods, State of Place creates an urban design profile for communities, laying out a roadmap for sustainable–economic and social–growth. 
  • The San Diego Health Department uses the Oxford Health Alliance’s 3Four50 as their organizing framework to quantify the region’s health status: 
    • 3 risk factors (tobacco, poor diet, lack of physical exercise) 
    • Contribute to 4 chronic diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lung disease, some cancers) 
    • Which contribute to more than 50% of deaths in the world
Boston has solar-powered compacting
trash and recycle bins
For more information on the program, please contact Gretchen Armijo.

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