More than a third of U.S. youth aged 2-19 years are overweight or obese, which increases their adult risk of obesity and associated chronic health problems. Interventions that address obesity among youth may require the support and involvement of schools, government agencies, and community-based organizations to be successful. Researchers are taking a comprehensive, multi-level approach to obesity control by promoting physical activity. The project is based in Carson, California, an incorporated city in the southern part of Los Angeles County.
The researchers will train a group of students at Carson High School to deliver large-group versions of Instant Recess, an established and award-winning, media-aided group exercise break. Researchers intend to work with school administrators to offer all 2,000 students at Carson High School frequent and regular opportunities to participate in the physical activity program. A nearby comparison school will receive information about Instant Recess but no training. Researchers will survey students at both schools at the beginning and end of the school year to assess any changes in attitudes and behaviors about physical activity. The levels of participation during the Instant Recess breaks will also be monitored at Carson High School throughout the school year.
To determine whether the environment surrounding the school is conducive to physical activity, researchers will conduct a walkability assessment of Carson Street. Carson Street is a two-mile stretch that runs through the heart of the city and is where most of the government offices, libraries, parks, and retail establishments are located. The mayor, city council, city manager’s office, and community members will be involved in planning and conducting the assessment. The results will be presented to city planners that may help them find potential solutions to increase walkability and physical activity among Carson’s 90,000 residents.
To affect change in physical activity levels of the surrounding community, researchers will disseminate and evaluate uptake and impact of Instant Recess breaks among 100 Neighborhood Action Councils (NACs) throughout the county of Los Angeles. The NACs are a collection of about 15 community members who meet weekly to make social connections, acquire skills and knowledge to improve their lives, and develop projects that benefit their neighborhoods and communities. PRC researchers will train NAC leaders on the benefits of incorporating Instant Recess in their meetings and provide copies of the Instant Recess DVDs. Researchers will conduct telephone assessments throughout the course of one year to determine the degree to which physical activity breaks are adopted among the NACs. All the NACs will also participate in surveys at the beginning and end of the year to determine levels of reported daily physical activity among their members.
The UCLA PRC is using this multi-level, multi-sector approach to obesity control and prevention to recognize that students live in families and families live in communities. The experiences from this approach may provide valuable information to school officials, community leaders, and community-based organizations about how to collectively address obesity at the community level.