Using Citizen Scientists to Gather, Analyze, and Disseminate Information About Neighborhood Features That Affect Active Living


Many Latinos are insufficiently active, partly due to neighborhoods with little environmental support for physical activity. Multi-level approaches are needed to create health-promoting neighborhoods in disadvantaged communities. Participant “citizen scientists” were adolescent (n = 10, mean age = 12.8 ± 0.6 years) and older adult (n = 10, mean age = 71.3 ± 6.5 years), low income Latinos in North Fair Oaks, California. Citizen scientists conducted environmental assessments to document perceived barriers to active living using the Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool, which records GPS-tracked walking routes, photographs, audio narratives, and survey responses. Using a community-engaged approach, citizen scientists subsequently attended a community meeting to engage in advocacy training, review assessment data, prioritize issues to address and brainstorm potential solutions and partners. Citizen scientists each conducted a neighborhood environmental assessment and recorded 366 photographs and audio narratives. Adolescents (n = 4), older adults (n = 7) and community members (n = 4) collectively identified reducing trash and improving personal safety and sidewalk quality as the priority issues to address. Three adolescent and four older adult citizen scientists volunteered to present study findings to key stakeholders. This study demonstrated that with minimal training, low-income, Latino adolescent and older adult citizen scientists can: (1) use innovative technology to gather information about features of their neighborhood environment that influence active living, (2) analyze their information and identify potential solutions, and (3) engage with stakeholders to advocate for the development of healthier neighborhoods.

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The project described was supported by the National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through UL1 RR025744. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH. At the time this study was conducted Drs. Winter and Sheats were supported by US Public Health Service grant 5T32L007034 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The following individuals assisted with this project: Nkeiruka Umeh, Martell Hesketh, Cynthia Perez, Aldo Chazaro, Alexis Fields. Rhonda McClinton Brown and Jill Evans from the Stanford University Office of Community Health have provided much support for this and other community based projects using the Stanford Healthy Neighborhood Discovery Tool. The authors are grateful to have worked with such thoughtful and engaged citizen scientist co-researchers.

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Correspondence to Sandra J. Winter.

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Winter, S.J., Goldman Rosas, L., Padilla Romero, P. et al. Using Citizen Scientists to Gather, Analyze, and Disseminate Information About Neighborhood Features That Affect Active Living. J Immigrant Minority Health 18, 1126–1138 (2016).

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  • Physical activity
  • Built environment
  • Latinos
  • Mobile technology
  • Community engaged approach