UCLA study of community health project shows how group dynamics affect fitness, eating habits

Imagine break-room vending machines featuring fruit juice and vegetables instead of cookies and soda pop. Consider colleagues who insist on mid-morning group exercise breaks and applaud a lunchtime workout rather than criticizing the cut of the sweat suit. Ponder an organizational culture that encourages walking the stairs instead of riding the elevator.

A UCLA-evaluated study of a demonstration project led by Community Health Councils, Inc. (CHC) in Los Angeles shows how incorporating physical activity and healthy eating into an office or other organizational culture pays dividends for participants.

Published in the July 2006 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Health Promotion Practice, the study finds that a six-week wellness-training program significantly increases vigorous physical activity among participants. A 12-week curriculum, meanwhile, boosts fruit and vegetable intake while reducing feelings of sadness and depression, and can even reduce waistlines.

"Creating a culture of healthy living within an organizational framework requires buy-in by leadership, staff and clientele," said Dr. Antronette K. Yancey, lead author of the study and associate professor of health services at the UCLA School of Public Health. "Both the physical and social environment must change.

"The model we studied holds promise for extending the reach of worksite wellness programming to organizations, at-risk populations and communities not traditionally engaged by such efforts," she added. "However, many obstacles to organizational and individual engagement are apparent. Recommendations include offering a flexible menu of options that may be tailored to each organization and developing strong intra-organizational connections throughout the program to improve sustainability."

The Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) 2010 demonstration project, led by Los Angeles-based Community Health Councils, adapted and implemented an organizational wellness intervention originally developed by the local health department. The program provides training in incorporating physical activity and healthy food choices into the routine "conduct of business" in a variety of predominantly public and private, nonprofit agencies.

"Our goal is to increase life expectancy and improve quality of life for all ages by helping communities support programs that eliminate health disparities experienced by racial and ethnic minorities," said study co-author Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils. "The focus of the CHC Organizational Wellness Program is on cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes within the African-American community, where CVD rates are 20 percent higher for black men and 40 percent higher for black women compared to their white counterparts. And blacks are 1.8 times as likely to have diabetes as whites."

UCLA examined the results of the CHC study of 35 organizations. More than 700 staff, members or clients--mostly overweight African-American women--within those organizations completed a 12-week or a six-week curriculum.

Among the findings contained in the UCLA analysis of the program:

  • Feelings of sadness or depression decreased significantly among 12-week participants; fruit and vegetable intake increased significantly and body mass index decreased marginally with the 12-week program, with no significant changes in these measures in the six-week group.
  • The number of days in which individuals participated in vigorous physical activity increased significantly among six-week participants but not in the 12-week group.
  • Attendance and retention rates between baseline and post-intervention assessment were quite low for the 12-week curriculum (30 percent to 37 percent retention) but substantially higher for the six-week offering (66 percent attendance and 60 percent to 92 percent retention).

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Primary funding for the research was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rest of the research team includes LaVonna Blair Lewis, David C. Sloane and Lori Miller Nascimento of the University of Southern California; Joyce Jones Guinyard of CHC; Allison L. Diamant of UCLA and the Rand Corporation; and William J. McCarthy of UCLA.

The UCLA School of Public Health is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals, translating research into policy and practice, and serving local, national and international communities. For more information, see http://www.ph.ucla.edu/ .

Community Health Councils (CHC) is a nonprofit, community-based health promotion, advocacy and policy organization dedicated to strengthening community participation in defining state and local policy that impacts health-care access and quality. For more information, see http://www.chc-inc.org/ .


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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