Feds spend nearly $700K on study using churches to tell Latinos to exercise

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In an effort to fight obesity among Latinos, the National Institutes of Health is spending approximately $700,000 on a study in which they are encouraged by churches to go to the park to exercise.

The research, conducted by RAND Corporation, is purportedly the first study involving workouts led by the Latino Catholic church, The Washington Free Beacon reported.

“Public parks comprise local infrastructure that can be leveraged for community PA [physical activity], but tend to be underutilized, particularly in low-income communities,” read the grant for the project. “Parks in low-income and minority communities tend to have less PA programming, especially targeting adults, and higher crime and other factors that affect park use. There is a need for interventions that address community concerns, target the built environment, and ‘activate’ park use.”

Researchers believe that churches can be integral in the success of the study by tapping into their “vast social networks” and “moral authority” to convice Latinos to exercise.

“It integrates churches’ vast social networks, moral authority, and influence with parks’ structural and organizational capacity and kinesiology student interns’ professional expertise,” the grant stated.

“Churches are credible, stable entities that have significant reach within Latino communities and a history of social service provision and advocacy related to health and well-being,” the grant stated. “Our research has found that church-based interventions can be effective across a wide range of health issues and types of churches.”

Approximately 1,500 parishioners of Latino Catholic churches in Los Angeles will be recruited for the study and participate in a “multi-level” and “inter-sectoral” intervention joining churches with local parks. The research also involves “peer-led walking groups” and other “park-based church events.”

To calculate the effects on participants of exercising in public parks, researchers will measure their “waist circumference, waist to hip ratio, body fat, mental health, and perceived social support” for physical activity.

Through the implementation of the study, researchers hope to establish a model that is “scalable and sustainable in real-world settings.”

“To our knowledge, this will be the first study to examine the effectiveness of an integrated church and park-based intervention on Latinos’ PA, and it will provide a sustainable model of PA programming in low-income communities,” the grant stated.

“If the intervention proves effective, the increased community capacity through this partnership will lay the groundwork for scale-up across the largest diocese in the U.S. and, potentially, the nation,” the grant concluded.

The project began in May and has received $699,085 from taxpayers to date. The study will continue through April 2023.

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