Online Program

Balancing act: Approaches to healthy eating and physical activity among Boston public housing residents

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Madeleine Scammell, D.Sc., Department of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Shioban Torres, MPH, Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Julie Wayman, MPH, Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Nechama Greenwood, CPM, MA, Department of Family Medicine, Boston University School of Medine, Boston, MA
Gerry Thomas, MPH, Boston Public Health Commission, Boston, MA
Lauren Kozlowski, MPH, Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Deborah Bowen, PhD, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Residents of government-subsidized public housing in the US are more likely than the community at large to be poor and members of a racial or ethnic minority. Additionally, Boston public housing residents are more likely to report fair or poor health status, to have been diagnosed with obesity, and to be physically inactive compared with other Boston residents. However, they report similar levels of access to and utilization of health care. Providing affordable and easy access to healthy foods and physical activity has been proposed as a way to prevent obesity in the general population. Residents of public housing, however, receive relatively little research attention in this area, despite the fact that they are particularly vulnerable to the economic, environmental, structural and behavioral risk factors for obesity. Little is known about perceptions of and opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity in this population. We conducted eight focus groups at public housing developments to explore residents' views regarding definitions of healthy foods; access to, quality, and affordability of healthy foods; and preferences, affordability, and access to opportunities for physical activity. Sixty-seven participants included 32 English speakers and 35 Spanish speakers. Transcripts were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. All residents described the challenge of balancing considerations of food quality, access and affordability. Participants in all groups discussed efforts to travel distances to markets where they could find price and quality, and unanimously disregarded bodegas and corner stores as practical options. Other findings included underutilized nutritional resources; abundant availability of unhealthy food; and economic and structural barriers to exercise. Transportation related challenges were a dominant theme. Immediate needs and opportunities for interventions focused on transportation to low-cost, high quality food purchasing options and gyms, and may be important for promoting health among public housing residents.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs

Learning Objectives:
Identify structural, economic and cultural aspects of the built environment that function as barriers to healthy food for residents of public housing Formulate recommendations for reducing barriers to physical activity and healthy food choices for public housing residents

Keyword(s): Public Housing, Obesity

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an Assistant Professor of Environmental Health and have been working and doing research with residents of Boston Public Housing for nearly 5 years in partnership with the Boston Housing Authority and the Boston Public Health Commission as Director of the Partnerships and Collaborations Core of the Boston University PRC. I serve on the Board of Health in the City of Chelsea and have managed several federally funded grants.
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.