Grantee Blog

Neighborhood Walk Audit Identifies Barriers to Healthy Eating & Active Living

By Whitney Buchmann

On a Saturday afternoon in June, over 20 worshipers and residents connected to Camden Coalition’s Faith in Prevention program came together to conduct a first-hand assessment of available resources for healthy eating and active living in their communities. Working in pairs, they completed a Walk Audit packet for each block on their assigned route, looking to document a wide range of conditions in the Whitman Park and Parkside neighborhoods. These conditions included broken or cracked sidewalks; sidewalks blocked or obstructed by poles, shrubs, or low-hanging trees; speeding cars or drivers who did not yield to pedestrians, or whose actions put pedestrians at risk; availability of playgrounds or other recreational facilities or classes; and corner stores that had fresh fruits and vegetables in stock.

As I flipped through the completed packets turned in by Walk Audit volunteers, I frequently found no data for such sections as “Recreational Spaces,” “Healthy Food Accessible at Mini Markets,” and “Available Fitness Activities.” In contrast, the “Barriers to Walkability” section had an average of three boxes checked off in each completed packet. We didn’t need a trained researcher to draw from our preliminary data one of our core findings: Both the Whitman Park and Parkside neighborhoods lack the conditions and resources conducive to healthy eating and active living behaviors.

I made another telling observation: 100% of the recreational spaces observed that were marked as open area[s] for free play were vacant lots. The only recreational space identified was a few patches of grass where a house once stood. We found no playground equipment, picnic tables, or courts to encourage recreational activity. 

In August, leaders from the six participating community organizations will reconvene to review the full results of their Walk Audit and individual surveys that they conducted with individuals they encountered during their audit. These leaders will make recommendations for how to use the remaining funds we received from the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids to make improvements to the very blocks they walked. They may decide to add equipment to these vacant lots, repave walking paths, or offer fitness activities. There is no one better to assess neighborhood conditions, interpret the data, and recommend changes to a community than its own residents.

About the Grantee

Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers

The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers is a multidisciplinary nonprofit organization working to improve care for people with complex health and social needs in Camden, NJ and across the country. The Camden Coalition works to advance the field of complex care by implementing evidence-based interventions and piloting new models that address chronic illness and social barriers to health.