Funded in 2008 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Texas Childhood Obesity Prevention Policy Evaluation (T-COPPE) Project was selected as one of RWJF’s state policy evaluation projects. Our charge was to evaluate the impact of two national policies as implemented throughout Texas: (1) the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program; and (2) the revised WIC food allocation package.
RWJF recognized the potential in our unique partnership, a collaboration involving two Texas universities with a well-documented history of a strong rivalry: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s School of Public Health and the Texas A & M Health Science Center’s School of Rural Public Health. Early on, however, we all realized there was no rivalry when our focus is finding the healthier option for our Texas children.
Working together with the support of RWJF, our T-COPPE team combined resources and expertise, partnering with a wide variety of state and community organizations, to make this evaluation project truly representative of such a large and diverse state. Valuable discoveries emerged from our baseline data collection, and early findings seemed to support the very purpose behind the SRTS and revised WIC food allocation package. Just a couple of those findings include:
- Children were more likely to walk if they were in an infrastructure school or a planning school than they were if they were in one of the control schools that received no funding for the SRTS program.
- Our T-COPPE surveys and interview results highlighted that parents stressed the importance of safety in allowing children to walk to school.
Our survey findings were further corroborated by anecdotal experiences. For example:
- The project’s PI received more direct inquiries from parents about this project than any other child physical activity project in over 20 years of programmatic and research experience.
- The concern about the lack of a safe environment as children walk to and from school was emphasized when one of our team members collected environment audit data at a T-COPPE school. A student was hit and injured while crossing the street. This particular school had a drop off area at the school’s main entrance; however, they did not have a cross walk or designated lane for the safety of the children. Parents drive through on both sides of the street to drop their kids off, and the two-way traffic is dangerous for students who are crossing. Since the accident, the Principal functions as greeter and cross guard every morning and afternoon.
- T-COPPE received positive feedback about tangible changes within schools receiving SRTS funding. Cynthia Vasquez, Parent Support Specialist at Zavala Elementary in Austin, Texas explains, “It’s grown into something amazing. I have about 15 to 22 kids that walk with me on Wednesdays. It really has spurred relationship building and conversations that have evolved into making sure that the kids get safely to and from school.”
Our research findings and observations provide a solid foundation for evidence-based decision making for statewide public health policies.