Health Interventions in Public Housing May Reduce Residents’ Obesity

Health Interventions in Public Housing May Reduce Residents’ Obesity
Deborah J. Bowen, Lisa M. Quintiliani, Sarah Gees Bhosrekar, Rachel Goodman and Eugenia Smith
BMC Public Health
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Public housing residents are more likely than urban residents not living in public housing to have high rates of obesity and smoking and low rates of physical activity. This study assesses whether adding environmental interventions at public housing developments affects residents’ health-related habits and body mass index.

Using 10 public housing sites in the Boston area (5 received the interventions, and 5 were comparison sites), researchers studied the impacts of environmental interventions on 211 eligible female public housing residents randomly selected across the sites. Most participants were Latinx (64 percent), relied on Medicaid or Medicare (79 percent), and had a high school education or less (64 percent). The interventions included on-site health advisers, monthly health screenings, a weekly food truck with affordable fresh produce, cooking demonstrations, resource maps, and weekly walking clubs. Researchers collected baseline data on participants’ body mass index (BMI) and their health-related habits (e.g., dietary, exercise, substance use) and followed up with a 12-month survey to track results. Health advisers tracked participation throughout the year to bolster the survey data. The follow-up rate from the baseline survey to the 12-month survey was 72 percent.

Key findings

  • Health advisers documented 12 health screenings with 128 participants, 20 walking groups with 62 participants, and 8 cooking demonstrations with 45 participants.
  • Intervention participants reduced their BMI by an average of 1.5 points from 30.6 to 29.1.
  • Comparison participants increased their BMI by 0.2 BMI points, on average.
  • Statistically significant changes were seen in mean fruit and vegetable intake (up 1.6 servings per day), the share of participants reported as inactive (down 30 percentage points), and minutes of walking in the neighborhood per day (up 10.7 minutes).

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