Environmental factors influencing body weight in Georgia senior centers
O'Shea, Elizabeth Dunn
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Obesity prevalence among older Americans is currently estimated at 37 percent (Salihu et al 2009). Modifying the food environment may have economic and psychological advantages when used as a complement to other programs in order to reach populations with limited resources (Swinburn et al 1999). This research study examined the influence of environmental factors on obesity among adults aged 60 and older participating in Older Americans Act Nutrition Programs in Georgia senior centers. The aim of this study was to develop a questionnaire for evaluating obesogenic factors in senior centers and pilot test the questionnaire in four Georgia senior centers. It was hypothesized that the questionnaire would accurately identify environmental factors relating to obesity, including food available in addition to congregate meals, absence of physical activities or exercise equipment, food policies that promote excess food consumption, and lack of access to nutritional counseling. This study used a cross sectional analysis of environmental factors and adiposity indicators in four Georgia senior centers. Height, weight, waist circumference, and associated demographic and health information were collected from participants aged 60 and older (mean age = 75 years, 25% male, 75% female, 55% white, 42% black, 2% Hispanic/Latino, and 1% Asian). Environmental factors were assessed using a questionnaire administered to senior center staff to assess center policies and procedures; certain environmental factors were assessed multiple times to determine short term variation in the environment (e.g., cafeteria crowding). No significant differences in BMI, waist circumference, or obesity were detected among the centers. The questionnaire detected differences in food service characteristics, some nutrition related policies and practices, and staffing that may be related to differences in participant demographics, diabetes prevalence, and food insecurity among the centers. These results suggest that further refinement and testing of the environmental analysis questionnaire will be necessary in order to accurately identify environmental factors related to obesity in senior centers.