An ecological approach to childhood obesity prevention includes conducting an environmental assessment. This assessment helps you systematically evaluate the current healthy eating and active living environments in your target community and identify promising areas for intervention. The key steps to follow are listed below. You may want to print this page for future reference.
Before conducting an environmental assessment, you should have already identified the target behaviors and community setting. You and your collaboration partners should decide who will be responsible for which steps.
Key Steps in an Environmental Assessment
1. List environmental factors that affect your target behaviors. Include those in the built, social, economic, and policy environments.
2. Identify which environmental factor(s) you are going to assess. Should I begin with the built, social, economic, or policy environments? Should I promote healthy eating, active living or both? Pick factors which you think you might be able to address based on their importance and their potential changeability. Starting simple is probably the best course.
3. Select and implement data collection methods, tools, and strategies to gather information on how these environmental factors are impacting behavior and how much they are impacting it. Determine who will collect data and how and by whom data will be analyzed.* Visit Tools for You on the Cornell NutritionWorks website, www.nutritionworks.cornell.edu, for examples of some of the tools available for assessing particular environments (e.g., a school, a grocery store, walking routes) and their influence on healthy eating or active living.
4. Determine how you are going to use the information you collect. To whom will you be presenting your findings? Include people with control over resources (time, money, equipment, facilities, policy) and those whose "buy-in" you'll need for intervention success.
5. Identify opportunities for environmental change and set objectives. Write objectives that address your priority environmental factors based on your assessment results. Keep in mind your assessment may lead you to conclude you need to go back and assess a different environmental factor. If your resources allow it, consider opportunities to change the environment to promote healthy food choices as well as active living.
*If the opinions of individuals are to be collected—for example in a survey of opinions of the school staff or parent—you'll need a plan to protect the confidentiality of respondents.