Campus: San Diego State University -- June 15, 2005

SDSU is partner in new study that asks: Is your neighborhood making you lazy?

Is your neighborhood making you lazy? San Diego State University researchers will take the question to both coasts to learn what role neighborhoods are playing in the lifestyles of older residents of Baltimore and Seattle.

“This study involves two issues of universal interest: everybody’s interested in their health, and everyone is interested in their neighborhood,” said psychologist James Sallis, a psychology professor and director of the Active Living Research Program at San Diego State.

Sallis is co-principal investigator for the Neighborhood Quality of Life Study for Seniors, which will focus on volunteers ages 66 and older. “It’s a growing population that accounts for a huge proportion of health care dollars, so it’s in the best interest of the whole of society for seniors to be as happy and healthy as possible,” Sallis said.

Questions will range from whether neighborhoods are walk-able to whether the neighbors are likeable for the study, which involves researchers at San Diego State, Stanford University, the University of Cincinnati in Ohio and University of British Columbia in Canada.

Researchers will count parks, sidewalks, trees, measure spaces between houses and study street and traffic patterns in urban and suburban neighborhoods, first in Seattle and later in Baltimore. The study’s volunteers also will wear compact activity monitors to measure their movements. About 500 people are expected to participate in each city in the four-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Once we learn more about how the built environment relates to people’s health, we can feed that information to policy makers who decide how to lay out streets and sidewalks,” Sallis said.

“We’re also interested in whether there may be different issues for older and younger adults in people getting out and walking around for their social, mental and physical health,” Sallis said. “If you’re younger, you may be more likely to go to a park if there are ball fields or jogging tracks. Maybe older adults want to be sure the park has water fountains and benches in the shade.”

The new project is an outgrowth of an earlier four-year Neighborhood Quality of Life Study now nearing completion, which focused on younger adults in the same regions. For the earlier project, Sallis was principal investigator with the University of British Columbia’s Lawrence Frank and University of Cincinnati’s Brian Saelens serving as co-principal investigators.

Results of the earlier study likely won’t be published until 2006, but Sallis expects those findings to be of interest not only to the public, city planners and policy makers, “but also to the real estate industry.”

For the new project, Abby King, a professor of medicine, health research and policy at Stanford University, is principal investigator, with Sallis, Saelens and Frank serving as co-principal investigators.

What San Diego State researchers who have recruited volunteers for both projects already know is that interest has been keen in the subject from younger and older participants, Sallis said. “People find it a novel idea to look at their connections with their neighborhood, and they can see this benefiting other people,” he said.

Outside the United States, other countries are paying attention. Sallis said. A similar project is under way in Australia, and studies are on the drawing boards in Japan, Belgium, Brazil and other countries to examine how people’s neighborhoods impact their physical activity, he said.

Contact: Renee Haines, SDSU Marketing & Communications, (619) 594-4298, rhaines@mail.sdsu.edu


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