UIC Receives $16M to Study Impact of Environment on Kids’ Health

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UIC Receives $16M to Study Impact of Environment on Kids' Health

News Release


[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Today, Frank Chaloupka, distinguished professor of economics and director of the Health Policy Center at UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy, talks about a $16 million grant to study policy and environmental factors that influence healthy youth behaviors.

Here’s professor Chaloupka:

[Chaloupka] We recently received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that continues a project that they’ve been supporting for the last 11 years called “Bridging the Gap – Research Informing Policy and Practice for Healthier Youth Behavior.”

This is a partnership between the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan.

The work that we do at the University of Illinois at Chicago is focused on looking at the effects of policy and environmental influences on youth behaviors, as they relate to health.

Over the past 11 years we’ve mostly focused on tobacco use and done some work on alcohol use and illicit drug use. And in recent years we’ve started to pay more attention to things like diets and physical activity and obesity – given the growing awareness of the upward trends in obesity rates among youth and the health consequences associated with that.

As part of this project, we’ll be focusing on looking at several different levels of policy and environmental influences on youth behavior starting at the national level, looking at things like the overall food marketing on television, looking at federal legislation that potentially impacts on local environments. We’ll be focusing on what’s happening at the state level in terms of state policies that potentially impact on diet, on activity and on
weight outcomes. But much of the work that we’ll be doing is focused on what’s happening in school districts, in communities and in schools. The work on school districts is largely focused on wellness policies that school districts have adopted over the last couple of years that try to promote more physical education, more physical activity among students in schools and try to create healthier food environments in schools, and otherwise promote health among students in school.

A lot of the work we’re doing in schools then is to try to assess how these wellness policies are actually being implemented in the schools and what impact they’re having on school practices and the school environments. Then, ultimately, we can link this back to data on what’s happening with kids to see whether or not these policies and other influences have an impact on what kids are eating, how much activity they’re getting, and ultimately on their weight.

One of the significant extensions of what we’re doing through the new grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is to go into the communities where the schools are located that we’re focusing much of our effort on to look at what’s happening in communities, what sorts of opportunities are being provided to kids for physical activity in those communities, what sort of characteristics of the built environment may promote or serve as barriers to activity among kids, to look at the availability – or lack of availability – of healthy food options or unhealthy food options in communities. And otherwise just try to get a sense of the community environments that could relate to physical activity, diets and ultimately weight outcomes among kids.

The reason we’re interested in all this is because there’s been a clear rise in obesity among children and adolescents in this country in the last 30 years. There are numerous long- term health consequences associated with that rise in obesity and significant health care costs associated with that.

Policy makers at all levels – at the federal level, state level, local level, in schools and other organizations – are really trying to do different things, taking different approaches to try to address these issues. But at this point there’s very little evidence on what actually works to impact kids’ diets, kids’ activity and ultimately their weight outcomes.

So the work that we’re doing is really trying to get a sense of what’s happening in communities, in states, at the national level and which of these different efforts are actually having impacts in terms of improving healthy eating among kids, raising their activity and improving their weight outcomes.

[Writer] Frank Chaloupka is a distinguished professor in economics and director of the Health Policy Center at UIC’s Institute for Health Research and Policy.

For more information about this research, go to www-dot-news-dot- uic-dot-edu (www.news.uic.edu) … click on “news releases.” … and look for the release dated December 15, 2008.

This has been research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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