Newswise — El Paso, TEXAS (March 5, 2024) – Health researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso are launching a clinical trial to improve walking in the El Paso community, thanks to a $4.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The project will enroll local school district employees in 50K 4 Life, a program that challenges them to improve their health by walking at least 50,000 steps per week.

“This is an exciting opportunity to improve our community’s health through the simple, free and life-changing power of walking,” said Jennifer Salinas, Ph.D., principal investigator and associate professor in the Department of Social Work. “We are grateful for this unique funding from the National Institutes of Health to improve health equity.” 

Salinas’ previous research has demonstrated that walking at least 7,000 steps per day, or about 50,000 steps per week, improves overall health. But about half of El Pasoans do not get the recommended daily amount of physical activity, according to Salinas. Research into group fitness challenges and other ways to encourage people to walk more has been promising, but she said that this study will be the first of its kind to test these methods in Hispanic populations at the border.

Employees from 30 local schools will participate in the research, which will officially begin in August of 2025. Each school will be randomly assigned one or more activities, such as walking as a team or setting goals for their number of daily steps. Participants will be able to track their physical movement and monitor progress relative to other participants.

Three local school districts — Clint, Fabens and Ysleta Independent School Districts —are partnering with Salinas on the clinical trial.

“Fabens ISD cares about its employees and their wellness,” said Interim Superintendent Martin Torres. “We are excited to partner with UTEP to promote a more active lifestyle to ensure that our teachers and staff take care of their physical and emotional needs at work as well as at home. By partnering with UTEP, we hope to change the culture of our district to a more wellness-based environment that will also empower our students to lead a more active lifestyle.”

Salinas and her team will use the data they gather to identify the activities that are most successful at getting people to walk the recommended 7,000 steps per day over the course of 18 months. They will also measure health benchmarks like heart rate and body mass index and identify systemic barriers that may impede regular walking, such as lack of adequate walking paths or lack of time.

“This is a great example of how health disparities research at UTEP creates a focus on Hispanic and border health concerns,” said William Robertson, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Sciences. “It also directly benefits the Paso del Norte region, while strongly impacting national and international perspectives on these issues.” 

About The University of Texas at El Paso

The University of Texas at El Paso is America’s leading Hispanic-serving university. Located at the westernmost tip of Texas, where three states and two countries converge along the Rio Grande, 84% of our 24,000 students are Hispanic, and more than half are the first in their families to go to college. UTEP offers 172 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs at the only open-access, top-tier research university in America.