245701 Using school environmental audits to inform policy action for obesity prevention

Wednesday, November 2, 2011: 1:30 PM

Chanam Lee, PhD, MLA , Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Marcia G. Ory, PhD, MPH , Social & Behavioral Health, Texas A&M HSC School of Rural Public Health, College Station, TX
Deanna Hoelscher, PhD RD LD CNS , Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, University of Texas School of Public Health, Austin Regional Campus, Austin, TX
Diane Dowdy, PhD , Social and Behavioral Health Department, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, College Station, TX
Hyung Jin Kim, MLA , Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Background: Childhood obesity has become a major public health problem in the US. Among the many contributing factors is the lack of safe and attractive places for children to engage in physical activities.

Objectives: Focusing on schools as important behavioral settings for children, this study used a newly developed school audit instrument to measure the school environment to identify specific improvements to better support healthy outdoor activities, especially walking.

Methods: The audit instrument was developed based on literature reviews and field tests, and finalized after reliability assessments. Trained auditors assessed 79 school campuses and their 314 frontage/adjacent street segments across diverse communities in Texas.

Findings: The instrument included factual items capturing land uses, street/traffic/parking conditions, lighting and amenities, signs, and unattractive items; and perceptual items rating surveillance, maintenance, cleanliness, visual quality, safety and attractiveness. The inter-rater reliability was acceptable (Kappa=0.839, ICC=0.602), and the test-retest reliability was good (Kappa=0.903, ICC=0.774). School campus audits revealed several physical conditions requiring improvements: adjacency to vacant/abandoned/undeveloped areas (19 schools), sidewalk/walkway connections to school buildings (14 lacked), designated pick-up/drop-off areas (21 lacked), and trails/paths (73 lacked). Street audits also identified priority elements for improvements: street lights (25% lacked), traffic calming devices (85% lacked), benches and trash cans (96% lacked), bike lanes (98% lacked), unattractive/discarded items (75% with 1 or more items), and sidewalk obstructions (many with poles, parked cars, mail boxes, etc.).

Conclusions: Environmental audits can help identify areas needing improvement, facilitating policy development toward creating healthier communities for reducing childhood obesity.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
To describe environmental audits as methods to measure and understand elements of the built environment associated with walking and physical activity. To discuss the roles of school environments on children’s physical activity. To discuss findings from school campus and street audits conducted as part of the TCOPPE project, and identify specific environmental conditions needing improvements to enhance safety and walkability of school environments.

Keywords: Environment, Physical Activity

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning who conducts research on healthy and active living environments.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.