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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UTHealth Research Effective at Increasing Physical Activity in School-age Children

In a paper published recently in a special physical activity series of The Lancet, the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program developed by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) was identified as an excellent example of an evidence-based physical activity intervention that has been successfully scaled up to affect population health.

[Dr. Deborah Salvo]

The school-based physical activity and nutrition education program was included in a paper co-written by Dr. Deborah Salvo, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin. Dr. Salvo’s paper was one of four published in the series, which convened worldwide experts in the field to present the latest science in physical activity and public health. Dr. Salvo’s paper focused on scaling up physical activity promotion strategies worldwide.

Dr. Salvo defined a successfully scaled-up physical activity intervention as one that not only reaches a large number of people, but also becomes embedded in a system and continues to operate, grow, and have an impact on people’s health even after the research funding for translation and dissemination has ended.

CATCH is designed to promote a healthy school environment through five modules: physical education, child nutrition services, classroom health promotion, families and communities and, most recently, sun protection. Over 10,000 sites across the world have adopted CATCH, mostly in the United States. In Texas, researchers led dissemination efforts by engaging health and education authorities and subsidizing the training of teachers and distribution of materials for schools. A substantial body of evidence shows that CATCH is effective at increasing physical activity in school-age children, according to the paper.

“This article highlights the importance of taking research findings and putting them into practice in real life applications, using our CATCH program as an example. The successful dissemination of CATCH has been due to outstanding investigators and staff, community partners, and ongoing investments from many philanthropic groups, as well as a continued relationship with UTHealth School of Public Health,” said Dr. Deanna Hoelscher, John P. McGovern Professor in Health Promotion and director of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin.

In addition to successfully scaled-up, evidence-based interventions such as CATCH, which are more common in developed countries like the United States, Dr. Salvo and the team of researchers identified examples of practice-based, scaled-up physical activity interventions in low- and middle-income countries. These included examples such as bus rapid transit systems and sports-for-development programs. While these interventions were not built on evidence-based practices, they were efficient at scaling up quickly and at becoming embedded in a system, according to Dr. Salvo.

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