HOUSTON – (Nov. 11, 2013) – Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) are beginning a study to examine how the presence of Houston METRO’s north light rail line extension will affect physical activity and transportation behavior of nearby residents.
“Although mass transit systems such as the METRO light rail can improve traffic congestion and connect more people to more places within a city, the effect it may have on people’s physical activity habits and the following health benefits has not been studied well,” said Harold W. Kohl III, Ph.D., principal investigator and professor of epidemiology and kinesiology in the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of UTHealth.
Regular transit use has been linked to greater levels of physical activity and lower body weight, but the long term effects of transport-related activity in neighborhoods have not been established.
Funding for the Travel-Related Activity in Neighborhoods (TRAIN) study comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and amounts to $2.5 million over the next five years. “The Houston TRAIN study will allow us to take advantage of the new light rail lines as they open and study their effect on the health of the people who live close to the lines,” said Kohl.
Kohl’s team is recruiting participants for research that will begin in December, when METRO plans to open its northbound extension. The new line will run through zip codes 77002, 77003, 77007, 77009, 77020 and 77022.
One research group will include residents who live within a half-mile of the new northbound red line, while a smaller control group will include people outside of that radius. All participants in the study will document their physical activity behavior with travel diaries and questionnaires. A subgroup of participants will also wear accelerometers for one week to provide a direct measure of physical activity.
The neighborhoods surrounding the new line have lower average incomes compared to Harris County and Texas as a whole. Additionally, they have a much higher racial minority population than the county and state. Both of these are established risk factors for physical inactivity, obesity and chronic disease. Part of the study will be to examine how the METRO line will influence community members with these factors.
Data will be collected every year for the next three years. Kohl and his team plan to conduct similar research each time METRO expands the light rail line into a new community. METRO is set to construct two additional lines in 2014 following the opening of the northbound red line.
Co-investigators from UTHealth include Casey Durand, Ph.D., Abiodun Oluyomi, Ph.D., Kelley Pettee Gabriel, Ph.D., Paul Swank, Ph.D., and Deanna M. Hoelscher, Ph.D. The principal investigator from TTI is Ipek Sener, Ph.D.
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