Post-Katrina-10-years-of-Tulane-PRC-work-to-rebuild-New-Orleans

Post-Katrina: 10 years of Tulane PRC work to rebuild New Orleans

Where we live shapes daily life, habits and health – ask anyone in New Orleans who’s tried to walk on broken sidewalks or buy fresh produce in a neighborhood that lacks a full-service grocery store.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and the levee system failed in New Orleans in 2005, businesses shut down, roads were in shambles, and parks were unsafe. The opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity were wiped out.
But much has happened in the 10 years since Katrina. The Tulane Prevention Research Center (PRC) has been working with policymakers, community organizers, other researchers, health advocates and residents to strategically plan and rebuild New Orleans as a healthier city. PRC staff members continue to collaborate with partners through the Community Advisory Board and other opportunities to provide assistance (see video) to neighborhoods, churches, nonprofits, and fellow public health entities.
“We at the Tulane PRC are sincerely committed to the health and wellbeing of the residents of New Orleans and working with our partners to continue the recovery post-Katrina,” said PRC Director Carolyn Johnson, PhD, FAAHB.

The PACE Project Gets People Moving
Shortly after Katrina, the Tulane PRC measured residents’ activity levels throughout the New Orleans St. Roch neighborhood in 2006 and again in 2008, before and after the PRC built a six-block walking path along the median of St. Roch Avenue, in collaboration with the City of New Orleans. Observed outdoor activity increased by nearly 12 percent in the neighborhood after the path was installed. The increase included activity around the path, as well as other parts of the neighborhood.
“There was a significant increase in outdoor activity in St. Roch compared to two other neighborhoods that did not have a walking path,” said Jeanette Gustat, PhD, PRC faculty researcher and associate professor of clinical epidemiology at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. “This shows that minor changes to the built environment, like walking paths, can make a difference to physical activity levels and the health of residents.”
Researchers for the community-based project, which was called Partnership for an Active Community Environment (PACE), collected data in St. Roch and two comparison neighborhoods through observations of people being active outside on streets, sidewalks and public areas.
Findings were published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Financial Support Arises for Food Stores
With so many businesses, including food stores, shut down after Katrina, the Tulane PRC decided to address the lack of food access in New Orleans by bringing together a wide range of experts to form the city’s Food Policy Advisory Committee (FPAC). The FPAC was authorized by a May 2007 resolution of the New Orleans City Council and the group published two reports that used Tulane PRC research and included recommendations for improving healthy food retail and food served in schools. As a result of the FPAC food retail report, the City of New Orleans established the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative in 2011. This $14 million financial incentive program, funded by public and private money, has awarded 5 loans to 5 stores in neighborhoods with a demonstrated lack of access to healthy food.
Establishing the FFRI required a broad-based community effort and a learning experience, according to a study led by PRC researcher Diego Rose, PhD, who is head of the nutrition section in the Department of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences. Certain factors helped to make the program a reality such as key advocates in government and private organizations, the presentation of a clear picture of local food access issues, and capitalization on unique windows of opportunity post-Katrina.
The research found that significant time had to be devoted to educating state and local lawmakers about the new policy, and delays occurred during the process.
Providing convenient access to healthy nutritional foods is essential to helping people make better choices in what they buy and eat. As chronic disease rates related to poor diet and obesity increase across the country, other cities are exploring fresh food policies.
“Our research shows that creating public policies that promote the sale of fresh, healthful foods is possible but delays should also be expected,” Rose says. “As more cities and states recognize the importance of preventing diseases by promoting healthy diets, this research can help guide their work.”
Researchers at the Tulane PRC and The Food Trust, a national food access and nutrition advocacy organization, also found that it was important to establish criteria for FFRI applicants, specifically that they must serve lower-income communities and align with community needs. To determine what areas lack healthy foods, they recommended that incentive programs rely on data about market areas and demographic characteristics using local research.
Findings were published in the journals American Journal of Preventive Medicine and Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Biking Surges with New Lanes and Paths
Since Katrina, the city has seen an increase in bike riding for recreation and daily commuting. New Orleans is now fifth in the nation for bike commuting, and the city is on track to have 100 miles of bike lanes by the end of this year – up from about 11 miles in 2005.
Tulane PRC researchers, knowing the construction of bike lanes was in the works as part of the Katrina rebuilding, developed a research project to study the use of bike lanes by systematically observing and measuring daily ridership before and after two sets of lanes were installed on St. Claude Avenue and South Carrollton Avenue. The PRC found that the number of daily riders increased by 57 percent on St. Claude Avenue and 225 percent on South Carrollton Avenue.
Findings were published in the journals Annals of Behavioral Medicine and Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

By Naomi Englar, Tulane PRC

Above is a sample of high-impact work performed through the Tulane PRC since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Click on the picture at the top of the story to see a slideshow of this and more from our faculty, staff, and partners.

Topics:   community health , obesity , built environment , food environment , bike lanes , sidewalks , diet , nutrition , physical activity ,

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