CDC Releases New Built Environment Assessment Tool

Viewing 125th Street

Viewing 125th Street

The CDC released a new direct systematic observation data collection instrument for measuring the core features and quality of the built environment related to behaviors that affect health, especially behaviors such as walking, biking, and other types of physical activity.  The core features assessed in the BE Tool include: built environment infrastructure (e.g., road type, curb cuts/ramps, intersections/crosswalks, traffic control, transportation), walkability (e.g. sidewalk/path features, walking safety, aesthetics & amenities), bikeability (e.g., bicycle lane/path features), recreational sites and structures, and the food environment (e.g., access to grocery stores, convenience stores, farmers markets, etc.).

Get the tool [HERE]

 

Posted in Community Needs Assessment, Methods, Walkability | Leave a comment

Systematic Review of Literature on Neighborhood Park Access and Physical Activity

Trail map for Fort Tryon Park - more difficult trails

Trail map for Fort Tryon Park

Providing neighborhood access to clean, safe and engaging park spaces is a strategy being adopted by many communities to promote physical activity.  We just published a systematic review of the literature assessing the link between park access and physical activity. After screening 10,949 abstracts that met the search criteria of 1) published between January 1990 and June 2013; 2) US-based with a sample size greater than 100 individuals; 3) included built environment measures related to parks or trails; and 4) included objectively measured physical activity as an outcome, 20 research studies were identified for review.

Five articles reported a significant positive association between parks and physical activity. Nine studies found no association, and six studies had mixed findings.  Studies that used study subject’s self-reported (vs. independently-measured) measures of neighborhood park environment characteristics and smaller (vs. larger) neighborhood definitions were more likely to find positive associations. We recommend strategies for further research, employing standardized reporting and innovative study designs to better understand the relationship of parks and physical activity.

 

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Mailman School’s Social Epidemiology Cluster launches a Blog

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The Social Epidemiology Cluster is one of the six thematic units within the Mailman School of Public Health‘s Department of Epidemiology and is home to BEH members Andrew Rundle and Gina Lovasi.  The Cluster has just launched a blog that will highlight the importance of research and interventions focused on social determinants of health for promoting population health and reducing disparities.  The blog will include commentary on research news and policy debates and initiatives, and will disseminate research findings from work being performed at Columbia University.

Posted in Social Determinants | Leave a comment

Neighborhood Safety and Physical Activity

Would you go for a walk around the block or in a local park if you thought your neighborhood unsafe and you would be in danger? At BEH, we care a lot about understanding constraints on outdoor physical activity, including (maybe) safety.

The link between neighborhood safety and physical activity has been tricky to assess, in part because physical activity is tricky to measure (questionnaires are vulnerable to reporting biases and don’t capture small-scale differences in activity between people whereas accelerometers and other activity trackers are sensitive to proper positioning), and in part because no single construct completely represents neighborhood safety – some researchers study fear of victimization, others study crime rates, and still others study aesthetic features such as disorder that may affect the perception that a neighborhood is unsafe.

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Download the PAA Poster

We recently investigated several measures of safety, including self-reported neighborhood safety, crime rates, and a measure of neighborhood disorder we constructed using Street View imagery in relation to accelerometer-measured and self-reported physical activity, using data from the Physical Activity and Transit survey undertaken by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. We found that independently observed measures of neighborhood safety and disorder were not associated with any measures of physical activity, but that reporting the neighborhood to be unsafe was associated with increased odds of reporting no recreational physical activity.

The initial results of our work were presented as a poster at the recent annual meeting of the Population Association of America.

Posted in Aesthetics, Physical Disorder, Safety | Leave a comment

Spatial Patterns of Exposure to Tree Pollen in Cities

Betula sp. pollen [Birch Pollen] photo by Guy Robinson, Fordam University

Betula sp. pollen [Birch Pollen] photo by Guy Robinson, Fordam University

BEH investigator Gina Lovasi has recently worked with colleagues from Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) on a systematic review of how tree pollen levels vary spatially within cities (available at http://www.isa-arbor.com/store/product.aspx?ProductID=963).  This review is part of our larger effort to inform refinement and evaluation of massive urban tree planting efforts currently underway in cities such as NYC and Los Angeles.

Seasonal allergies to tree pollen and other outdoor allergens (grasses, ragweed, mold) trigger respiratory symptoms and asthma exacerbations in urban populations.  Tree pollen in particular tends to affect people early in mid-spring.  While current pollen levels can readily be compared across broad areas of the US (for example see http://www.weather.com/maps/health), less is known about small scale variation of exposure within a city.  Single rooftop monitors tracking daily pollen counts are often used to represent the experience of the entire city.  Yet multiple monitoring points would be needed to help us understand how much exposure to tree pollen is driven by a city’s overall tree canopy and regional context versus vegetation in the immediate vicinity. Continue reading

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A SMART START: A Symposium on Preventing Childhood Obesity

On April 16th the Mailman School is presenting an afternoon long symposium, “A SMART START:  A Symposium on Preventing Childhood Obesity“, focused on prenatal and early childhood determinants of obesity.  This symposium is part of a month long series of events in April we are calling “Public Health Fights Obesity”.   You can RSVP to attend the symposium by clicking HERE

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THURSDAY, APRIL 16
1:00–5:00 P.M.

A SMART START: 
A Symposium on Preventing Childhood Obesity

Black Building, 650 West 168th Street
Alumni Auditorium

PLENARY: Why Focus on Pregnancy and Early Childhood?

Andrew Rundle, DrPH, Associate Professor of Epidemiology; Co-Director of Obesity Prevention Initiative, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

PANEL 1: Gestational Weight Change, Prenatal Factors and Childhood Obesity

Moderator: Virginia Rauh, ScD, Professor of Population and Family Health, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Speakers:

Dympna Gallagher, EdD, Associate Professor of Nutritional Medicine, Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons

David A Savitz, PhD, Vice President for Research, Professor of Epidemiology, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Brown University

Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, MD, Associate Professor of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellowship Program, Medical Director of Perinatal High-Risk Clinic, Columbia University Medical Center

PANEL 2: Early Childhood Factors and Early Childcare Practice and Policies

Moderator: Gretchen Van Wye, PhD, MA, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Vital Statistics, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Division of Epidemiology

Speakers:

Cynthia Colen, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Sociology, The Ohio State University

Cathy Nonas, MS, RD, Senior Advisor, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Sally E Findley, PhD, Professor of Population and Family Health & Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Round Table: Future Directions for Research and Action

Moderator: Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management and Co-Director of Obesity Prevention Initiative, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

Speakers:

Kiyah Duffey, PhD, Director of Global Scientific Affairs, LA Sutherland Group; Parenting blogger and proud mother of three, ages 5 and under

Tina Kauh, PhD, Program Officer, Research-Evaluation-Learning, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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NE-WAS: Welcoming Big Data to the Neighborhood

Like most researchers investigating neighborhood determinants of health, we are excited that both government and the private sector are making more and more spatially located data available. But even as new data sources allow us to characterize study subjects’ environments more completely, the sheer number of potentially interacting contextual variables we can now study introduces analytic complexity. Drawing an analogy with genomic research, we propose the ‘neighborhood environment-wide association study’ (or NE-WAS) as one approach to address the complexity.

Three VsNeighborhood research is increasingly a high-volume, high-variety ‘Big Data’ endeavor. Even as neighborhood research mainstays like the US Census and American Community Survey continue to be updated, new forms and sources of data like social media, remote sensing, and commercial aggregators are providing increasingly detailed insight into neighborhood conditions. Furthermore, through GIS tools and spatial analytic approaches, researchers are defining neighborhoods in creative new ways including network buffers, pill buffers, and neighborhood hulls. With more data at more spatial resolutions, we can characterize study subjects’ neighborhoods in high-dimensional space – for example, one dataset we work with has 1,485 separate variables that describe some aspect of each subject’s residential neighborhood. Continue reading

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CANVAS featured on NEXTCITY.org

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The Science of Cities blog over at NEXTCITY.org featured the CANVAS system and our work developing methods to conduct virtual neighborhood audits. In the article NEXYCITY.org’s Henry Grabar describes his experience using CANVAS to collect neighborhood audit data on four blocks in Washington DC.

 

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Evidence Based Investment in Public Spaces

NYRP_TheHavenProject_LogoThrough the development of numerous initiatives directed at transforming green spaces across the city, the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) has improved the quality of life for New Yorkers. Due to her track record of studying green spaces and streetscapes, BEH investigator Gina Lovasi was invited by NYRP to join the planning team for an emerging effort: The Haven Project. The Haven Project aims to renovate a network of open spaces in the Mott Haven and Port Morris neighborhoods of the South Bronx, while simultaneously demonstrating measurable health and social outcomes resulting from an improved physical environment. Since the fall of 2014 Gina Lovasi, along with Lori Fingerhut, has led our engagement in this planning effort.  Our role included conducting a rapid literature review tailored to the needs of the project (download the report).  This literature review focused on informing strategies for redesigning public spaces to enhance opportunities for population health.

NYRP_The_Haven_ProjectCommunity meetings and discussions within the planning team shaped the literature review sections and areas of emphasis.  Our review focused first on three health-related outcomes of particular concern in Mott Haven and Port Morris: physical activity, clean air, and pedestrian safety. We reviewed the key drivers of these outcomes in the local physical environment, with a focus on leverage points that could support improvements in these outcomes. Next, our review examined three modifiable aspects of the local physical environment with potential relevance to health needs of the area residents: parks, trees, and pedestrian path enhancements.  For each of these, we sought to describe the range of potential health impacts, and the multipliers that seem to maximize health benefits. Finally, we briefly discussed literature on the processes driving neighborhood change, and how process itself may be crucial to realizing behavioral health benefits. Continue reading

Posted in Community Needs Assessment, Parks, Urban Forestry | Leave a comment

New Research Using Google Street View to Conduct Neighborhood ‘Virtual Audits’

Viewing 125th Street

Viewing 125th Street

We recently published three papers describing our use of Google Street View to conduct ‘virtual-audits’ to collect observational data on neighborhood characteristic and conditions.

A long established approach to collecting data on neighborhood conditions is to send trained observers to neighborhoods to collect data using standardized audit tools – an approach known as Systematic Social Observation and also Neighborhood Auditing.  Essentially observers go to specified blocks in a neighborhood and complete checklists noting the presence or absence of neighborhood amenities or disamenities.  However, this approach is time consuming – in our studies about 75% of researcher’s time is spent traveling to and from the observation sites – which limits the number of blocks that can be observed and the size and number of neighborhoods that can be included in a study.  As an alternative we have developed a system known as CANVAS (Computer Assisted Neighborhood Visual Assessment System) that uses Google Street View and a series of customized add-on tools to allow researchers to conduct neighborhood audits from their desk-tops. Continue reading

Posted in CANVAS, Methods, Physical Disorder, Street View, Urban Design, Walkability | Leave a comment