Public Release:  UCLA public health researchers get $20M grant to promote health and fitness, fight obesity

Improving nutrition, physical activity in minority communities is key

University of California - Los Angeles

Researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have been awarded a $20 million federal grant to further their innovative efforts to curb obesity, a global pandemic that has reached the level of a national crisis in the United States.

The UCLA project, rather than requiring busy, stressed individuals in low-resource neighborhoods to seek out physical activity and nutrient-rich foods, will engage them as "captive" audiences in settings they already frequent -- including schools, offices and churches -- making healthier options a default that can only be avoided with effort or by "opting out."

The five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is intended to address health disparities among racial and ethnic groups across the country and is part of the agency's Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative.

The UCLA project will be led by Dr. Antronette Yancey and Roshan Bastani, professors of health policy and management at the Fielding School and co-directors of the school's UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity. Other faculty members on the team include assistant professor Beth Glenn, professor Annette Maxwell and professor William J. McCarthy, all of the school's department of health policy and management.

For more than 20 years, UCLA has been recognized as a leader in promoting health among a diverse array of ethnic groups in a variety of settings, with programs that address critical health issues ranging from obesity and tobacco control to cancer screening and vaccinations. This work is conducted in partnership with several hundred community-based organizations, primarily in the Los Angeles region.

The new CDC funding enables the researchers to build on knowledge gained from their prior work and to expand the geographic scope of their efforts. They will concentrate on promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity in 30 to 40 medium- to large-sized cities throughout the U.S. Southeast, Midwest and Southwest, focusing on geographic hubs in those metropolitan areas where ethnic or racial minorities make up the majority of residents.

The program will be disseminated through national networks of community-based organizations, allowing the program to reach large segments of the African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian populations in these urban centers.

The core of the program is Yancey's "Instant Recess," which she developed nearly 14 years ago to help prevent obesity and promote health and well-being. "Instant Recess" focuses on integrating short physical-activity breaks into non-discretionary time -- during non-P.E. time in school, "paid time" at work and Sunday church services, for example -- and establishing policies to ensure that appealing healthy options are accessible whenever food is served at meetings or gatherings, in cafeterias, or in vending machines.

The "Instant Recess" exercise breaks consist of 10-minute dance- and sports-themed movements scientifically designed to maximize enjoyment and energy expenditure while minimizing injury risk and perceived exertion in the average sedentary, overweight individual. A library of more than 50 "Instant Recess" CDs and DVDs has been produced, including American Indian pow-wow, Latin salsa, Appalachian "talking dance," cumbia, reggae, hip hop, line dancing and African dance, along with basketball, baseball, football, boxing and soccer. The CDs and DVDs also include suggestions for low-resource healthy nutrition policies that can be adopted by organizations.

"This award is a truly amazing validation of our obesity prevention and control work of the past 20 years in stimulating communities to seek and embrace the healthy, culturally situated choice," Yancey said. "We are incredibly honored to have received this funding, which will allow us to take our work to scale at a national level and evaluate the sustainability of our interventions."

"This project represents a true public health approach," Bastani said. "We will continue to partner with a wide range of community organizations that have national reach and assist them in adapting our program for the specific populations they serve."

Preventable risk factors -- including tobacco use, poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity -- are more common in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods and often result in chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer and stroke, among others.

As part of the project, UCLA will work collaboratively with national partners to promote and implement sustainable "Instant Recess" initiatives within schools, youth programs, religious institutions, public health and health care agencies, small businesses, and professional sports teams to support healthy lifestyle behaviors in the African American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian communities.

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The UCLA Fielding 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.

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