Design For Health

What’s in a Name?


Plan available directly from the
City of Bloomington
Recently, I was looking at the Pew Health Impact Project web site and noticed a featured HIA: the Xcel Energy Corridor: http://www.healthimpactproject.org/resources#reports
This is an excerpt from a plan featured on the Design for Health web site (one of the 19 Minnesota communities in Phase 1 of the project). On Design for Health site it is listed under the place name (Bloomington) and plan name (Alternative Transportation Plan) at http://www.designforhealth.net/cases/bloomington.html

Whatever the name it’s great to have these examples featured in multiple places.

Resources: Planning and Active Living

Active living, the idea that it’s good to build exercise into daily life, has been big news in planning for a while but I still get questions about how to incorporate active living into plans. A decade ago, when it was a fairly new idea, there was the hope that if we built places where people were more prone to do activities like travel walking, that they’d keep exercising as well, increase their total activity, and reduce weight. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than this as I noted in my blog on high density and overweight adolescents in China. Research is quite mixed in its findings—there’s a lot of variation in how people respond to environments. Programs, policies, prices, education, and attitudes all shape how people use environments. But as a bottom line it is useful to provide options for people to be active in different ways so that when they want to do so they can. 

So how can you help provide options? Several web sites provide case studies of communities have done this work.
Mexico City Cycle Day, 2011. Photo: Ann Forsyth
  • Active Living by Design has been around since 2001 and has a useful web site. The group has worked with a number of cities and countied and provides case studies linked to an onsite map: http://www.activelivingbydesign.org/communities.
  • The APA has a webinar with some practice examples: http://www.planning.org/nationalcenters/health/education/webinars/activecommunity.htm
  • Design for Health also highlights some alternative transportation plans including ones by Bloomongton and St. Louis Park. Some of the questions in the DFH Comprehensive Plan Review checklists also target active living—noted in a column: http://www.designforhealth.net/resources/checklists.html

Tools: The National Collaborative for Childhood Obesity Research Measure Registry

Recently I highlighted work of the National Collaborative for Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR). a group spearheaded by the National Institute of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They have now released a new tool, or rather a registry of measures related to diet and physical activity: http://tools.nccor.org/measures/. I was part of the team on this project. My role was cataloging some of the physical activity measures, a mix of “questionnaires, instruments, diaries, logs, electronic devices, direct observations of people or environments, protocols, and analytic techniques.” Overall there are over 700 measures.

Example of Straight Line and Network
Buffers Created Using GI

The main search page at http://tools.nccor.org/measures/ allows users to search by domain (e.g. Individual dietary behavior, food environment…), measure type, age of people measured (though as this information seems to have been unevenly cataloged I found it not so useful for environmental measures), and context or type of place. Measures with reliability and validity information, as well as those used in studies of children and adolescents, were given priority. However, for the domain of physical activity environments this would have limited the measures too much so these are drawn from a wider range of sources.

Research: High Density and Overweight Adolescents

I typically don’t report on scholarly studies in this blog but recently came across a nicely designed study that makes a larger point—that the links between health and place are complex. Fei Xu, JieQuan Li, YaQiong Liang, ZhiYong Wang, Xin Hong, Robert S Ware, Eva Leslie, Takemi Sugiyama, and Neville Owen have produced a report  on the Nanjing High School Students’ Health Survey, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in 2010 (64, 1017-1021, http://jech.bmj.com/content/64/11/1017). Titled: “Residential density and adolescent overweight in a rapidly urbanising region of mainland China” the study used data collected from 2,375 adolescents in 2004 to examine the relationship between (large-scale) district level densities and weight.

New high rise behind village
residences in suburban Shanghai, 2010

Densities are reported per square kilometer but in range from 5 persons per hectare to 307.  The study divided the sample into high, medium, low density residents. Youth in the middle and higher density areas (that is over > 35 person per hectare) were roughly  twice as likely to be overweight.

The relationship was reduced a bit but still significant after controlling for TV time, study time, recreation, age, gender, and parents education. Physical activity data came from self reports through a version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) that only asked about some kinds  of activities. Given a lack of data on overall physical activity and food intake the authors speculate on a number of reasons for this difference e.g. youth in higher density and potentially higher income areas eating more, higher density areas having less recreational space, or (and here I am paraphrasing quite loosely) that higher density areas may just be too convenient with too much internet access so youth don’t have to expend much energy getting places. The high densities in China are also quite high compared with the US and Australia in particular, where much research has been done. They are also increasing rapidly—the authors report overall densities in Nanjing, presumably including some rural districts, increasing from 14 persons per hectare in 1997 to 23 in 2007.

The study is interesting because in many studies of adults, those in higher densities walk more for transportation (though they may not walk more overall) and some find they are thinner (though not all studies measure this or find it to be true, including my own). In this study of youth, with a large group and fairly good measures, those in higher densities are chubbier. While it is important not to make too much of one study, this is yet another example of the complexity of the relationship between health and place, and the importance of social factors.

Tools: The National Collaborative for Childhood Obesity Research Catalog of Surveillance Systems

The National Collaborative for Childhood Obesity Research is a group spearheaded by the National Institute of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Catalog of Surveillance Systems is a new product, also sponsored by the USDA. The catalog provides a searchable database of ongoing monitoring systems related to health. It includes both public systems such as the Census of Agriculture and National Vital Statistics System and private ones such as the Nielsen Homescan and InfoUSA.com. In all, 77 systems are represented.

The database can be filtered by keywords related to the level (person to community to policy), scope (local, state, national), key health variables, age groups, ethnicity, research design, and cost to use.

Each system has an individual entry including information on distinctive characteristics, sampling, key variables, costs, whether information is linked to geographical databases or to other surveys, example publications using the data, and other resources.

This is an extremely useful database and can provide a quick point of entry for those interested in assessing what data are available.
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