COLLEGE STATION, Jan. 3, 2011—Obesity is a problem for approximately one in every five children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prompting the State of Texas to implement policies that focus on contributing environmental factors. State officials are now asking researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of Texas to review and assess two of the key policies.
E. Lisako McKyer, assistant professor of health education at Texas A&M, has a leading role in the research team from Texas A&M University and the University of Texas to review two of the key policies—“Texas State Routes to School” and “Women, Infants and Children (WIC).”
The first program supports finding ways for children to safely walk and bike to school, thus encouraging them to get more daily exercise. The second program provides food assistance to low-income families as a means of including healthier options in their food packages.
McKyer notes WIC participants previously could not use their WIC benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, nor some whole-grain products. This has changed within the last year.
“What we’re expecting to see is that retailers will have changed how they display the products in accordance with WIC policies. Whole-grain products that were below eye-level will now be more prominently displayed,” McKyer says.
Because shoppers are naturally inclined to grab the first product they see on the shelf, McKyer says she believes this WIC change will have larger implications.
“A policy that was designed to influence a subset of people really does have a larger impact because everyone shops at these stores, not just WIC shoppers,” McKyer says. “Here’s an example of a policy that is meant to impact at-risk people having beneficial effects at the population level.”
Once all data has been collected on both policies, researchers will be able to look at their full impact across the state.
“We know the schools that have received the Texas Safe Routes to School grants, and we can map the WIC clinics and the grocery stores where WIC folks are most likely to shop. We’re able to overlap our data and look at the effects of these two policies,” she says.
McKyer says she expects to see significant results in the areas where the policies overlap. In theory, these regions will have more children exercising by walking or biking to school and eating more nutritious foods.
The idea is that by creating an environment where healthy life choices are easier to make, children and adults will reap the health benefits.
“We can say what we want about ‘eat this, buy this, do this,’ but if people are living in an environment where it isn’t conducive, you might as well tell them to catch a flight to the moon,” McKyer says.
Contact: Lane Stephenson, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4662