Research Study to Examine Effects of Kroc Center on Camden Community

In September, The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, a large-scale, health and wellness facility, opened to the public in Camden. According to the Kroc Center’s website, it offers an array of health, nutrition, education, and physical activity programs to a community typified by poor access to supermarkets or healthy food, and a lack of safe, outdoor and community spaces.

Happy familyWhile many people anticipated the opening, little is known about the effects that such structural health interventions have on the wellbeing of participants and the quality of neighborhoods in low-income communities, explains Robin Stevens, an assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers–Camden.

“With this lack of research, the establishment of the Kroc Center presents the ideal opportunity to conduct a natural experiment studying these effects,” says the Rutgers–Camden researcher.

Stevens and Neeta Goel, a Rutgers–Camden Ph.D. student in childhood studies, will examine the influence of the center on participants and the surrounding community in a groundbreaking study, titled “Impact Assessment of a Structural Health Intervention on Health in a Low Income Community: a Natural Experiment.”

The research project, which is funded by a $67,987 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its New Jersey Health Initiatives program, will assess the extent to which low-income families living in Camden’s Cramer Hill neighborhood, located within a one-mile radius of the Kroc Center, make use of the facility, and the effect that this usage has on their diet and physical health behaviors in the short and long terms. The study, conducted independently of the center, will also assess how health outcomes are influenced by factors such as neighborhood quality, neighborhood cohesion, and social support.

The researchers are currently conducting a baseline study, surveying 100 teens and their respective guardians, to determine knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors concerning diet and physical health. They plan to follow up with additional baseline surveys after 12 and 24 months.

“We are asking participants their attitudes and perceptions concerning a range of issues, including risks, safety, and civic engagement,” says Stevens. “Ultimately, we hope to capture two things: changes in their individual behaviors and, secondly, their perceived changes in the neighborhood.”

Stevens notes that the study is unique in its focus on structural health interventions, rather than studies in low-income communities that commonly focus on individual behaviors, such as smoking or exercise.

“We wanted to do something different,” she says. “We are asking, ‘If there is a structural change influencing health in the neighborhood, without doing anything else to improve individuals’ health, is that enough to provide different outcomes in a low-income community?’”

According to Stevens, the Cramer Hill neighborhood is predominately African American and Latino, and has a high level of concentrated poverty, with 42.5 percent of the population living at or below the federal poverty level, per the 2010 Census. She cites previous studies indicating the need to improve the structural environment in order to address health disparities in minority and low-income communities. Furthermore, they note, children living in these communities have been found to be at greater risk of obesity because their living environments do not support physical activity.

In addition to their findings in Camden, the researchers hope that the study will provide the necessary research for planning future structural health interventions in low-income communities.

“By being there at the right time – from the beginning – we hope that we will provide evidence showing what happens when you put a multimillion-dollar facility in a low-income community,” says Stevens. “This research also speaks to a bigger question: How do we improve health when we focus on it at the neighborhood and community levels.”

Posted in: Research Highlights

Comments are closed.