Why I can’t wait for the Olympics to end
St George’s University of London researcher Chris Owen explains how once the Olympics is over, the hard work on his physical activity study – part funded by the MRC – begins.
As someone who studies at a population level how much physical activity people do, I’m intrigued to see whether the sporting prowess on display at this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games will inspire the country to move around a little more.
However, I can’t wait for the Olympics to end. That’s because once the athletes have gone home, and the Athletes’ Village changes its name to East Village, my work begins.
Families will start moving into new social and affordable housing in East Village in April 2013. They don’t have any kitchens or dining rooms yet, but these will be fitted once the athletes are gone. There will be 675 homes for social rent, and 704 intermediate (affordable) homes for rent and shared ownership.
It’s rare for such a large number of people to move into an area so quickly and it’s a great opportunity for us. We want to find out whether moving into a place with state-of-the-art design and good access to facilities – such as sporting venues, green space, cycle paths and walkways – affects the inhabitants’ body weight, levels of physical activity and other aspects of their health behaviour.
Our study is a ‘natural experiment’: we’re going to study the effects of something that is going to happen anyway to see if we can learn anything about how the design of housing and the surrounding built environment can influence health behaviour. We’ll be measuring the activity levels of families before and after they move into the village and comparing levels with similar families who don’t move in.
We’ve heard a lot about the village and its features, and we can’t wait to see it after the athletes are gone. We hope that London 2012 will encourage families to be more active, and that these new homes will show us how to make better housing that promotes healthy living in the longer term.
Chris’s study is one of 19 funded under the fourth round of the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI), a joint funding consortium of 16 UK government departments, research councils (including the MRC) and major medical charities.