Baylor University to Lead Physical Activity and Screen Time Components of a $4.9 Million Grant from USDA

April 15, 2015


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WACO, Texas (April 15, 2015) – Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences, Department of Health, Human Performance, and Recreation (HHPR), along with partners from Texas A&M University’s School of Public Health (lead on the overall project), New Mexico State University, the Mariposa Community Health Center in Arizona, and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have received a five-year, $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve the lives of families living along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Renée Umstattd Meyer, Ph.D., MCHES, associate professor, MPH Graduate Project Coordinator, Baylor HHPR, will lead the multi-state team from Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona on all physical activity and screen time components of the funded project. The team plans to implement a family-centered approach to reducing the incidence of childhood obesity along the border through research, education, and extension in three key areas: nutrition, physical activity, and “screen time.” Screen time is a sedentary activity that includes all activities done in front of a screen (ex: watching TV, video games, computer work).

“Both sedentary and physical activities are important to understand and address when it comes to obesity prevention, as research identifies both as independent predictors of obesity,” Umstattd Meyer said. Underserved and marginalized populations, like the children and families of Mexican heritage residing in impoverished communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, are disproportionately burdened with obesity. Levels of childhood obesity in these areas are reaching “epidemic proportions,” according to studies conducted by the United States-México Border Health Commission.

The funded program will focus on areas with the least amount of resources, such as the more than 2,300 colonias scattered along the Texas-Mexico border from El Paso to Brownsville. Colonias are unregulated neighborhoods that have sprung up in former agricultural areas that have exhausted their usefulness for growing crops. Families living in these areas have limited access to affordable, healthy foods and physical activity opportunities. Public health officials trying to improve the quality of life in these areas face numerous barriers such as language, level of education, poverty, inaccessibility, and trust of outsiders. The program will focus on Hidalgo County (Texas), Luna and Otero counties (New Mexico), and Santa Cruz County (Arizona).

“Obesity and physical activity are very complex issues in these communities,” Umstattd Meyer said. “Physical activity is often challenging for many of us, but considering the lack of social support and environmental and policy infrastructure in most colonias areas it can be even more difficult for these individuals to be physically active.”

Umstattd Meyer noted that colonias have several significant factors that affect physical activity.

“This is compounded when considering the persistence of poverty among these families, safety threats that keep children from being outdoors, the relentless heat, loose dogs, and notable distances to existing physical activity resources and programming when there is limited or non-existent public transportation. Like many rural or functionally rural areas, you can’t just take a program from somewhere else and expect it to work here,” Umstattd Meyer said.

As a result, the team will focus on addressing environmental context and culture of the areas, while planning a family-focused intervention. The new program builds on partnerships since 2011 between Dr. Umstattd Meyer and colleague Dr. Joe Sharkey at Texas A&M School of Public Health to investigate physical activity and improve the health of these families.

Umstattd Meyer will work with other members of the research team to develop and test a promotora-driven model called Salud Para Usted y Su Familia (Health for You and Your Family). Promotoras are members of the community who are trusted by residents, serve as cultural brokers, and have special training in outreach and health education. In fact, promotoras themselves suggested taking a family based approach. “We have been working with promotoras along the border for years in the areas of obesity prevention, nutrition, and physical activity, and they want to know how we can change things.” Working with these promotoras, Dr. Umstattd Meyer and other team members plan to develop a program to improve individual and family behavior in three key areas: nutrition, physical activity, and screen time.

Improving the health of families living along the U.S.-Mexico border is not only important for these underserved communities, but also helps us understand similar new immigrant communities springing up throughout the country, including in states such as Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Tennessee. Populations of Mexican origin will be the largest minority group in the U.S., if they are not so already. The project team hopes that this project will help us learn how to improve the health of this population, whether it is through individual or environmental changes.

Partners with Umstattd Meyer, Baylor University HHPR include Texas A&M University, School of Public Health (Joseph R. Sharkey, Ph.D., MPH who is the Principal Investigator for the overall project), New Mexico State University (Jill McDonald, Ph.D.), the Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, Arizona (Susan Kunz, M.P.H.) and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (Sharon Robinson, Ph.D.). The USDA awarded the grant through the Childhood Obesity Prevention Challenge Area, a program of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative sponsored by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.


After more than three years of evaluation and input from Baylor regents, deans, faculty and staff, and external entities, the Baylor Board of Regents approved the creation of the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences on May 16, 2014. This was also a direct result of identified priorities for strengthening the health sciences through Baylor’s strategic vision, Pro Futuris, which serves as a compass for the University’s future. The anchor academic units that form the new College –Communication Sciences and Disorders, Family and Consumer Sciences, Health, Human Performance and Recreation, and the Louise Herrington School of Nursing – share a common purpose: improving health and the quality of life. The new College is working to create curricula that will promote a team-based approach to patient care and will establish interdisciplinary research collaborations to advance solutions for improving the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities. For more information visit,