Stair-stepping-Researchers-examine-physical-activity-in-City-Hall

Stair stepping: Researchers examine physical activity in City Hall

New Orleans city employees are not just encouraging residents to be more active, they’re making healthy changes within the ranks and tracking the results with help from the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University.

Through the PRC, one student is measuring how often city employees and visitors use the stairs inside the 10-floor, downtown City Hall building. The study will also examine whether use increases after a public-health campaign is launched to encourage more stair stepping among employees.

“There is a push in New Orleans, especially in City Hall driven by the mayor (Mitch Landrieu), to make this a healthier city,” said Julia Davies, the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine graduate student selected for the practicum work through the PRC.

Results from the initial research are not complete. However, baseline data show that peak traffic in the stairwell was 30 people over one 30-minute period during the lunch hour. The lowest counts show no one using the stairs over several 30-minute periods.

The PRC set up the joint project with Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the city's health commissioner and lead health adviser to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and led the search for a student researcher. DeSalvo is also vice dean of community affairs and health policy at Tulane’s School of Medicine.

DeSalvo and Davies’ research is measuring how many times people enter each floor of the stairwell over a three-day period. Once that is complete, flyers encouraging employees to use the stairs will be posted on each floor throughout August. The flyer messages will use material created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After one month, another round of observations will determine whether stair use increased.

The study will not measure how many flights are climbed for each visit to the stairs because researchers didn't want to interfere and possibly influence decisions on how many floors to travel, Davies said.

One of the barriers the study has found is related to building security and stairway access. The stairwell entrance on the first floor is locked in City Hall because the door, while inside the building, is outside the security entrance. That means employees and visitors must take an elevator to the second floor, or any other floors, if they want to use the stairs. Stairwell users can, however, leave the building through the exit on the first floor.

Davies said city government is looking into installing a secure access system for employees to use the first-floor stairwell entrance.

The opportunity to work with Dr. DeSalvo and inside local government sparked Davies' interest in the practicum. In addition, Davies said, the PRC’s practicum program gave her a starting point and a support system for her work.

“It was really nice to have all of that set up already and work with someone who has a lot of experience working with students,” said Davies, a native of Austin, Texas, who is set to complete her coursework in December.

To learn more about the City of New Orleans Health Department, click here.

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