Students gain research experience with Movin' for LIFE at the Tulane PRC

Tulane students are getting first-hand experience in conducting community-engaged research through Movin' for LIFE (Lasting Improvements for Fitness and Energy), a five-year project led by the Tulane Prevention Research Center.

The project is moving into its last year, and this fall students are conducting final assessments to determine whether Movin' for LIFE has made an impact in New Orleans’ Upper and Lower 9th Ward communities.

"Our student team is invaluable to this phase," said Movin' for LIFE Program Manager Revonda Darensbourg.

The overall goal of Movin' for LIFE, which started in 2014, is to develop a model of healthy living for residents of the 9th Ward community, such as eating healthy and being more physically active, and to promote existing resources in the neighborhood.

So far, 16 student research assistants from both graduate and undergraduate public health programs at Tulane have recorded observations from over 70 food stores and 31 parks and playgrounds since March. Sites are visited multiple times a day, multiple days a week.

"We record details like how many boys, girls, are using the space while we're there," said epidemiology graduate student Linsey Eldridge.

In addition to park observations, the students are also conducting another measurement. Driving observations involve slowly moving through a neighborhood in a vehicle while recording the number of people outdoors and their level of activity.

All assessments will be used as indicators of neighborhood health. Baseline data were collected prior to the implementation of Movin' for LIFE and now, with the follow-up measurements, the objective is to evaluate changes.

"Being a research assistant is so different from on-campus jobs," said James Marsh, an undergraduate student studying public health and cell and molecular biology. "It lets me see more of New Orleans and be out in the community. I've been learning how you can work for change in communities like improving parks."

"It's been useful to see how much of a team effort projects like this are. It requires a lot of coordination, moving together, and figuring out what's been done and what hasn't," said Bejan Foretia, a recent Tulane graduate with a master's in maternal and child health.

In addition to getting research experience in the field, these students are learning to be representatives of Tulane and the health promotion project, Movin' for LIFE, as they visit parks and playgrounds.

"While we were observing Odile Davis Park, I met a youth sports coach," said undergraduate public health student Antonia Asher. "We got to talking about park improvements. Since he hadn't heard of us yet, I got to share the work Movin' for LIFE is doing, which fits in with his work in improving community parks and programming for youth. This work feels super impactful."

For some students, the learning experience has been about more than just observing parks and playgrounds – it has been an opportunity to understand how the built environment serves as a social determinant of health and can encourage or discourage physical activity and healthy eating.

"I've seen many churches, but there aren't many grocery stores. Some people say New Orleans has recovered (since Hurricane Katrina in 2005), but, from what I see, it hasn't. Maybe uptown or downtown but it's not the whole city," Asher continued.

"I agree," said Alex Toups, an undergraduate student studying sociology and public health. "Parks are a physical sign of injustice. We can physically see inequality in where the money goes and what the city feels is necessary to fix by the looks of overgrowth, tires, and state of the pavement."

"Parks in more popular areas get more publicity and the neighborhood parks don't get as much attention," said Foretia.

Potential outcomes are taking shape as measurements continue. "It's clear that when the park is higher quality, people will use it," said Marsh.

Once the measurements are analyzed, results will be published and made public.

By Emily Szklarski, Tulane PRC Communications Research Assistant
October 2018

(Tulane PRC Photo: Students perform observations at Roffignac Playspot in New Orleans’ 9th Ward neighborhood.)

Topics:   community health , built environment , food environment , physical activity , nutrition , training

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