$4M Grant to Study Impact of Policy, Environment on Kids’ Health

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s ImpacTeen project has been awarded a $4.4 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study policy and environmental factors that influence youth behaviors related to nutrition, physical activity and obesity.

Many communities and schools do not encourage healthy eating or active living — a neglect that has led to long-term health consequences and increased health-care costs that follow a rise in obesity in kids, says Frank Chaloupka, distinguished professor of economics and director of the Health Policy Center at UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy and principal investigator of the study.

If the obesity epidemic goes unabated, “it may soon cause as many preventable diseases and deaths as those from cigarette smoking and other tobacco use,” Chaloupka said.

ImpacTeen, one component of Bridging the Gap, a partnership between UIC and the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, focuses on school, community, state and national environments. The current grant renews funding for research aimed at enabling legislators and policymakers to develop effective strategies for changing youth health behaviors. Over the past 15 years ImpacTeen has received $40 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The researchers will survey schools on the availability of foods and beverages sold outside of federal school meal programs; availability of fast foods; participation in and the types of foods and beverages offered in school meals; the time allotted for physical education and recess; and other factors. School wellness policies will also be assessed.

At the community level, researchers will evaluate local ordinances; zoning requirements for sidewalks, crosswalks and bicycle lanes; local taxes on sugary beverages; bans of trans fats in food; and menu-labeling requirements. They will look at the availability — or lack — of healthy food options in communities, opportunities for physical activity, and characteristics of the built environment that may promote or hinder physical activity among kids.

The researchers will analyze Nielsen Media Research data to evaluate exposure to food, beverage and restaurant advertising on television among different age groups, and assess the nutritional content of the products advertised.

The goal of the research, Chaloupka said, is to help identify policies and practices with the greatest potential to address disparities and reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.

Co-investigators are Jamie Chriqui, senior research scientist at UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy; Lisa Powell, professor of health policy and administration and senior research scientist at IHRP; Sandy Slater, research assistant professor of health policy and administration and research scientist at IHRP; Lindsey Turner, research scientist at IHRP; and Shannon Zenk, assistant professor of health systems science in the UIC College of Nursing.

More information about Bridging the Gap.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world. More information about UIC.

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