UH Study Urges Healthy Eating, Physical Activity With a Latin Beat

Researchers partner with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to SALSA

A healthier lifestyle may be a SALSA step away. Researchers at the University of Houston department of health and human performance are launching the SALSA study-Saving Lives, Staying Active. The three-month study for women of color aims to increase their physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables using Salsa dancing as fun motivation.

"This study is about finding ways to change the habits of women who are physically inactive and not eating in the most healthful way," said Rebecca Lee, professor and principal investigator of the study. Lee also is the director of the Texas Obesity Research Center housed at UH. "Salsa dancing is popular among people from all walks of life. It's fun, and if you are having fun while doing something physically active, you are more likely to continue that physical activity."

The study is funded in part by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the Texas Obesity Research Center at UH.

"We are looking for long-term solutions for engaging people in maintaining a physically active lifestyle," said Lorna McNeill, an assistant professor in the department of health disparities research at M. D. Anderson and one of the study's investigators. "Physical activity needs to be something that is seen as socially and culturally relevant and part of one's everyday life."

Beginning June 9 and continuing to Sept. 1, 80 women of color (African American, Hispanic and Asian) will participate in the 12 week study. The project focuses on women of color because this population is underrepresented in research and vulnerable to obesity and related illnesses, Lee said. After an initial health assessment (body mass index, height, weight, resting heart rate, blood pressure), half the women will begin a four-week Internet component of the study that educates about healthy eating choices, while the other half will begin classes on Salsa dancing. Raul Orlando of Strictly Street Salsa will offer the classes twice a week at the UH Garrison Gym. Four weeks later, the two groups will switch components. Participants will be outfitted with a pedometer to record their steps and an accelerometer to record their movements. Throughout the course of the study, participants will receive health assessments and diet surveys to record how their eating habits may be changing.

"Not only will they be asked what they ate, but how often and how much," Lee said. "In addition, participants will be asked about their attitudes and beliefs about physical activity and diet, which play a critical role in any regimen for healthy living."

All will receive follow-up assessments for three months after conclusion of the study.

Interested women must be between the ages of 25 and 60, in reasonably good health and able to participate in physical activity without a doctor's supervision, not pregnant and not planning to become pregnant for the next three months. Each must also have access to a computer and the Internet. Call 713-743-1183 to register or for more information.

Lee has conducted extensive research on the subject of obesity, in particular the neighborhood factors that may lead to obesity, such as availability and quality of fresh produce, and the quality and quantity of physical activity resources available in neighborhoods.

For more information about the Texas Obesity Research Center, please visit www.hhp.uh.edu/obesity. For more information on the UH Department of Health and Human Performance, please visit www.hhp.uh.edu/.

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