Can the Design of Affordable Housing Promote Exercise?

Can the Design of Affordable Housing Promote Exercise?
Elizabeth Garland, Victoria Garland, Dominique Peters, John Doucette, Erin Thanik, Sritha Rajupet, Sadie H. Sanchez
Preventive Medicine Reports
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To encourage architects and planners to design built environments that promote physical activity, New York City offers an “active design” building incentive within the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults ages 18 to 65 engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (MPA) or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (VPA) per week to reduce risk of disease and promote a healthy lifestyle, but in 2011, only 20 percent of Americans met these goals. Active design interventions provide an easy way for residents to increase their activity and meet these goals. This study analyzed the impact of the new design incentive on the activity levels of affordable housing residents at the Arbor House, a 124-unit development in the South Bronx that received the LEED credit.

The researchers conducted a comparative pilot study between the Arbor House and Melrose Commons V, a similar LEED Platinum–certified affordable housing development in the South Bronx that did not receive the active design credit. Arbor House built an indoor gym and an outdoor exercise circuit, delayed elevator speeds, put elevators in nonprominent locations, and created well-lit, art-filled, centrally placed staircases as part of its active design strategies. The study used convenience sampling of adult residents at the two sites. The researchers collected data on the participants’ body mass index, their waist-to-hip ratio, and answers to questions related to their physical activity levels. The data were collected at the beginning of the study when residents first moved into Arbor House and then again 12 to 15 month later. Thirty-four Arbor House participants and 29 Melrose Commons V participants consented to the study and completed the baseline questionnaires. Only 19 of the 34 Arbor House participants (56 percent) and 15 of the 29 Melrose Commons V participants (52 percent) completed the follow-up questionnaire. Sixteen Arbor House subjects were female (84 percent) with a mean age of 29.3 years. Ten of the Melrose Commons V participants were female (67 percent) with a mean age of 39.2 years.

Key findings

  • Among Arbor House residents, there was an overall increase from 4 to 10 participants meeting the CDC MPA recommendation over the course of the study and no change in those meeting the VPA recommendation.
  • At Melrose Commons V, there was an increase from 9 to 13 participants meeting the MPA requirement and no change in those meeting the weekly VPA requirement.
  • At both sites, the number of female participants that met the VPA recommendation increased 10 percent.
  • There was no statistically significant change in mean body mass index or waist-to-hip ratio within or between groups. But there was a greater overall decline in body mass index at Arbor House than at Melrose Commons V.

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