CDC grant sets pace for mall walking

Basia Belza

Basia Belza -

UW nursing professor Basia Belza received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control to create a mall walking program resource guide. 

Photo by Anastasia Stepankowsky

Opportunity lies ahead for walkers everywhere who have their laces tied and watches ready. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved a $125,000 grant for UW nursing professor Basia Belza and four out-of-state partners to create a Mall Walking Program Resource Guide.

The grant is for one year, and the guide will be distributed by the UW in September 2014. Research data is being collected from Washington, West Virginia, Missouri, Illinois, and Alaska.

Mall walking is a growing form of social recreation. Early in the morning, the entrances to select malls unlock for individuals looking to wear out their sneakers. Local mall walking groups follow strategically planned routes throughout empty corridors at Bellevue Square, Northgate Mall, Alderwood Mall, Westfield Southcenter Mall, and Everett Mall.

“We have a huge problem with sedentary lifestyles. … [They] are as bad as drugs and alcohol and McDonalds,” Belza said. “One of the things that we want to do is try to create environments and encourage both adults and older adults to be as physically active as possible.”

Malls are selected for their efficient environments. They typically include good lighting, handrails, disability access, and easy transportation between floors through elevators and escalators. Parking lots are generally built around malls, allowing for ease of access to the entrances. Public bathrooms are readily available, and security staff are usually monitoring the area.

“People enjoyed being at a place that was well-lit, and had their route mapped out for them. … Just the fact that their peers were there with them, too. It seemed like a social thing for a lot of people,” said Laura Farren, program coordinator for the UW Health Promotion Research Center.

Farren coordinates day-to-day logistics of the project, schedules group meetings, and overviews conference calls between the partnering five states.

The research aims to develop a manual that is based on mall walking and analyze existing programs to look at marketing components for future projects. Research data will include statistics about gender, age, ethnicity, race, economic class, and walking speed of the participants.

Researchers from the partnering states plan to analyze the health benefits and fallbacks of mall walking. The grant application stated that the research will be conducted in 40 mall and 15 non-mall settings by observing and interviewing the walkers. Non-mall settings may include industrial parks or off-season ice skating rinks.

“I think the social aspect definitely gets a lot more people there who may also be interested in the physical aspect,” Farren said.

The research targets mid-life and older adults to meet the Healthy People 2020 objective of improving the quality and lifespan across all ages. Healthy People, a program of nationwide health-promotion and disease-prevention goals set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reported that fewer than 20 percent of older adults complete the weekly suggested amount of physical activity.

Washington state has ample research opportunity for mall walking. Bellevue Square, for example, has one of the most active mall walking communities in the area. Over 70 people regularly walk Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. The Walk for Life program is part of a multi-functional co-sponsorship that has been running for over 20 years. Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue hosts morning walks with help from the City of Bellevue, which assists with insurance costs and the YMCA, which provides a paid staff member to facilitate the event.

“The City of Bellevue advertises [Walk for Life] in our quarterly parks department program called Connections,” said Cathy VonWald, the City of Bellevue’s community services supervisor.

For adults, mall walking could be one step toward a healthier future.

“Walking in general is an excellent way to get and stay physically active. We actually have a walking revolution now,” Belza said. “We’ve had agriculture revolutions in the past, and we’ve had industrial revolutions, and now it’s really the walking revolution, because walking is what most people can do.”


Reach contributing writer Lindsey Boisvin at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @LindseyBoisvin

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