Department News : 2014 :

Cubans Participate in Health Study in Miami

A group of 400 Cuban immigrant newcomers to Miami-Dade County participated in a study conducted by researchers from the schools of Medicine and Architecture at the University of Miami, which measured the frequency with which the participants were traveling on foot to perform daily tasks.

The study, which was largely funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, was aimed to measure the impact on the health of residents in western Miami-Dade County, where communities are less urban compared with models south of Downtown Miami and where people must travel by car to shops and supermarkets nearby.

“Currently, more than two thirds of the citizens of Miami-Dade County are obese or are overweight,” said Scott C. Brown, professor of the School of Architecture and the Department of Public Health at the University of Miami. Brown led the study along with JosĂ© Szapocznik, Chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The researchers found that residents of Miami-Dade County who live closer to the Downtown Business District tend to walk more often because shops, parks and restaurants are within short distances. On the other hand, residents of Miami-Dade who live farther from Downtown tend to walk less, and suffer a higher risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Those who migrate to the United States from other countries, said Brown, do not escape this risk.

“When we applied for study funding in 2005, there were several articles proposing that Hispanic immigrants who came to the United States suffered an increase in body weight soon after their arrival,” said Brown to Nuevo Herald.

Brown and Szapocznik worked with the Miami-Dade County Refugee Health Assessment Clinic to recruit immigrants, both men and women between 30 and 45, to participate in their study. “We found that a group of Cuban immigrants who walked or rode bicycles frequently in their native country, were therefore thin and fit,” said Brown, who also stated that it was possible that participants would choose more active forms of transportation before emigrating because the general population has no access to cars in Cuba for personal use.

Brown also explained that the reason why he specifically selected Cuban immigrants was the fact that Cubans account for about 49 percent of the Hispanic population of Miami-Dade County.

“When we examined the frequency that participants walked a few weeks after arriving in the United States, many differences were reported,” Brown said. Forty days after immigrants arrival, a questionnaire used in similar studies worldwide with structured questions on physical activity were given to participants who exercised weekly. Participants were not informed of the study hypothesis.

In addition, researchers evaluated the ease of car transportation in participants’ neighborhoods using a virtual tool called Walk Score, which counts the number of destinations in the area – such as parks, schools and supermarkets – to which you can walk.

Participants received a score of one to 100 on the scale of Walk Score depending on how easy it is to walk in their neighborhood. The study revealed that those participants with lower scores living mostly in the western suburbs of Miami-Dade County, near the border of Miami Urban Development, or close to the Urban Development Boundary.

As for walkability in neighborhoods located throughout the county, the results indicated that each mile eastward from the Urban Development border represents an 11 percent increase in the number of minutes of walking as a method of transport. Likewise, every mile from the center of Miami to the west (toward the border of Urban Development), a decrease of five percent in minutes of walking.

“The further you are from the center of Downtown, less walking. Downtown is the paradise of hiking, where almost all daily activities can be done on foot, “concluded Brown.

Geographically, immigrants settled in different areas of the county, including Hialeah, North Miami, Homestead, Little Havana, and South Beach. However, Brown said, the choice of housing was not closely related to aesthetics or physical appearance of the neighborhood. Immigrants preferred to settle near family members already residing in Miami.

This article was translated from an El Nuevo Herald article.