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Update from the IMPACT Study: Neighborhood Assessments

 IMPACT Navigator Chante Cavin conducting a Neighborhood Attribute Inventory.
How does the immediate neighborhood affect a child’s or family’s ability to make healthy lifestyle changes? The PRCHN’s IMPACT Navigators are spending much of the summer conducting neighborhood assessments for students enrolled in the IMPACT study, looking at a range of factors that might make a neighborhood conducive—or not conducive—to a healthy lifestyle. Called Neighborhood Attribute Inventories (NAI), these assessments are conducted when a participant enters and leaves the study and anytime a participant moves during the course of the three-year intervention.

IMPACT is a multi-year intervention working to help Cleveland families improve their health with a focus on nutrition, physical activity, stress and sleep. Participants are randomized into one of three family interventions and may also have the opportunity to participate in the school intervention, which is available for participants attending schools that participate in the We Run This City Youth Marathon Program. Navigators are currently conducting NAIs for Cohort One (approximately half) of the 360 students enrolled in the IMPACT study, who will be finishing the program in the next six months and will complete the NAIs for Cohort 2 next summer.

Navigators are not given the child’s name or the house address, only the block segment. Navigators assess the one-block segment (both sides of the street) looking at the number and type of residential units; whether any units are for sale or rent or are empty; if there are security signs or bars on windows; whether houses are in good repair; if front yards are large enough for a child to play in; if there is litter or graffiti; the condition of the street and sidewalk (if present); if there are streetlights; and whether the segment is on a main road or side street. In addition, they note the number of people on the street and activities engaged in by the people they see (e.g., doing yardwork, walking a dog, etc.).

A large part of the NAI includes this human element—are there people outside and are they interacting with each other or the Navigators walking down the street. Navigator Rachel Gardenhire has been impressed by the sense of community she’s found in many neighborhoods: “One great thing to have seen while doing our NAI's has been the people that are genuinely invested in their communities. Just recently, we met a man who owns several community gardens on Cleveland's east side and heads up the Black Votes Matter campaign here in Cleveland. He was very interested in learning more about the PRCHN and what we are doing to help the community as a whole, but specifically, he was thrilled about what we are doing to help his community and what we are doing to help the next generation. On a separate occasion, we were invited to an African center and community garden that was right next to the segment we were assessing. This center and garden receives help from Cleveland State University students, along with community members. On both these occasions, I enjoyed seeing the excitement these community members had when talking about what they are doing to make their communities a more engaged, welcoming, and connected neighborhood.”

Sarah Jones, IMPACT Core Manager, notes that the NAIs serve two main purposes. First, researchers have a better understanding of the child’s and the family’s surroundings. IMPACT Navigator Chantè Cavin says, “When speaking with my IMPACT participants, I would always encourage them to run at home in efforts of increasing their mileage towards race day. While conducting Neighborhood Assessments, I have realized that some of the conditions in which the participants reside makes it somewhat challenging to run. Some of the neighborhoods have very uneven sidewalks, major overgrowth of weeds and shrubbery intervening with sidewalks, boarded up and abandoned homes, and other unsafe conditions that would make running difficult. This is something to take into consideration when suggesting that the kids run at home." Gardenhire had a similar experience. “One thing I have learned from doing our NAI's that I had never considered before is the how much our living conditions and simply the architecture of our houses determines the degree to which we engage socially and recreationally outside of our homes,” she says. “We have seen such diverse neighborhoods and have seen situations where it is obvious that outside engagements are seriously hindered simply because of the set-up of the houses in the neighborhood. Prior to doing these assessments, I had never looked at a neighborhood in this fashion.”

 IMPACT Navigator Sophia Kemble conducting a Neighborhood Attribute Inventory.

Because the NAIs are conducted multiple times, the second purpose is to allow researchers to observe changes in the neighborhood over time. If a student moves, a new assessment can show whether a family has moved to an area more or less conducive to a healthy lifestyle. In doing the NAIs, Cavin notes: "Many of the segments have been absolutely beautiful. The homes are well kept, grounds tended to with beautiful decorations that allow the house to feel like a home. So this has made me realize that I can't always judge an environment based on the stereotypes of that particular neighborhood. The segment could actually be stunning and you really wouldn't know until you actually visit the area.”