LinkedInHeather A. Starnes

Heather A. Starnes

Assistant Professor at Cal Poly State University

San Luis Obispo, California
Higher Education
  1. Purdue University,
  2. California State University, Chico,
  3. LifestyleRx, Valley Care Health System
  1. Purdue University
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Purdue University

Purdue University

Health and Kinesiology

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Dr. Heather Starnes has experience both as a lead author and as a collaborator on several research projects related to physical activity and public health. She has also taught courses in physical activity epidemiology, personal and community health, women's health, chronic and communicable disease prevention, and research methods.

Examples of her research experience include: 1) designing and conducting validation studies of physical activity and built environment measures, 2) analyzing cross-sectional associations between the built environment and physical activity in large data sets, and 3) conducting a comprehensive literature review of the role of trails in physical activity.

The focus of Dr. Starnes' dissertation research was two-fold. First, she tested a measure of perceived neighborhood walkability across diverse population groups and geographic regions. Second, she applied and tested methods for creating and examining objective measures of the built environment for physical activity research that integrate accelerometry, GPS, and geographic data in a geographic information system (GIS).

Heather seeks to collaborate with experts in health behavior, city and regional planning, transportation planning, landscape architecture, leisure and recreation, and public health.

Specialties:Physical activity assessment, built environment measurement, examining physical activity determinants, quantitative analyses (e.g., regression, factor analyses, multilevel modeling, longitudinal analyses)


Assistant Professor

Cal Poly State University
– Present (2 years 4 months)

Bilsland Dissertation Fellow

Purdue University
(1 year)

The goal of this fellowship award is to support doctoral research training in the area of testing built environment measures and novel methods for examining environmental effects on physical activity.

Research Assistant

Purdue University
(4 years)Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Purdue Research Foundation

Contribute to a NCI-funded study of the built environment and physical activity within the Nurses' Health Study, conduct analyses, co-author manuscripts for peer-review publication, assist in writing grant applications (e.g., F31, R01, R21) to the National Institutes of Health, lead efforts to conduct the first comprehensive review of published evidence on the role of trails in physical activity promotion

Publications can be found in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Perceived Built Environment and Physical Activity in U.S. Women by Sprawl and Region, November 2011, pages 473-479) and the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (Trails and Physical Activity: A Review, November 2011, pages 1160-1174).

Teaching Assistant

Purdue University
(2 years 1 month)Department of Health and Kinesiology

Teach undergraduate courses in personal and community health and women's health.

David M. Ross Fellow

Purdue University
(1 year)

Engage in several research projects during the Ross Fellowship period, one project resulted in a paper in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (Reliability of a Brief Intercept Survey for Trail Use Behaviors, November 2009, pages 775-80).


California State University, Chico
(5 months)Chico, California

Teach an undergraduate upper-division epidemiology course.

Instructional Assistant

California State University, Chico
(1 year 1 month)

Assist in presenting lectures and grading for upper-division and graduate-level courses, including epidemiology and research methods.

Graduate Research Assistant

California State University, Chico
(2 years 1 month)

Assist with research activities to study older adults and fitness.


LifestyleRx, Valley Care Health System
(1 year 1 month)

Supervise daily activities in a large medical-based fitness center.


  • Research Design
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Proposal Writing
  • Grant Writing
  • Scientific Writing
  • Scientific...
  • Physical Activity...
  • GPS Applications in...
  • Public Health
  • Qualitative Research
  • Statistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Quantitative Analytics
  • Research
  • Literature Reviews
  • Higher Education
  • See 1+  See less


Trails and physical activity: a review(Link)

Journal of Physical Activity and Health
November 2011

Purpose: To provide a synthesis of research on trails and physical activity from the public health, leisure sciences, urban planning, and transportation literatures. Methods: A search of databases was conducted to identify studies published between 1980 and 2008. Results: 52 studies were identified. The majority were cross-sectional (92%) and published after 1999 (77%). The evidence for the effects of trails on physical activity was mixed among 3 intervention and 5 correlational studies. Correlates of trail use were examined in 13 studies. Several demographic (eg, race, education, income) and environmental factors (eg, land-use mix and distance to trail) were related to trail use. Evidence from 31 descriptive studies identified several facilitators and barriers to trail use. Economic studies (n = 5) examining trails in terms of health or recreational outcomes found trails are cost-effective and produce significant economic benefits. Conclusion: There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating important factors that should be considered in promoting trail use, yet the evidence for positive effects of trails on physical activity is limited. Further research is needed to evaluate the effects of trails on physical activity. In addition, trail studies that include children and youth, older adults, and racial and ethnic minorities are a research priority.


Perceived built environment and physical activity in U.S. women by sprawl and region(Link)

American Journal of Preventive Medicine
November 2011

A number of studies have demonstrated relationships between the perceived built environment and physical activity among adults. However, little is known about whether these associations differ by U.S. region and level of urban sprawl. Purpose: To examine associations between the perceived built environment and physical activity in U.S. women by region and urban sprawl. Methods: Nurses' Health Study II participants (N=68,968) completed four perceived neighborhood environment survey items in 2005. Logistic regression was used to estimate associations with meeting physical activity recommendations, adjusting for demographic and weight-status variables, and stratifying by region and sprawl. Data analyses were completed in 2011. Results: Perceived proximity to shops/stores was positively associated with physical activity across regions and levels of sprawl (ORs=1.21–1.46). Perceived access to recreation facilities was also a positive physical activity correlate in most region–sprawl strata, with strongest relationships found in the West (ORs=1.31–1.70). Perceived crime and presence of sidewalks did not show statistically significant associations with physical activity in most region–sprawl strata, although ORs for perceived crime showed a consistent pattern of negative associations (ORs=0.60–0.95). A higher number of positive environmental attributes was associated with a greater odds of meeting physical activity recommendations.
Conclusions: Findings indicate that perceived proximity to shops/stores and access to recreation facilities are important correlates of physical activity for women, irrespective of region or sprawl.


Reliability of a brief intercept survey for trail use behaviors(Link)

Journal of Physical Activity and Health
November 2009

Purpose: This study assessed test-retest reliability of an interviewer-administered trail survey. Methods: An intercept survey was conducted with adults using 2 paved trails in Indiana and South Carolina (N = 295; mean age = 46.9 ± 18 y). The survey included items on frequency and duration of trail use for recreation and transportation, other patterns of trail use, and sociodemographic characteristics. Fiftyfive adults completed the survey twice (2–16 d apart; mean = 7.4 ± 2.6 d). Test-retest reliability was assessed with Spearman rank correlation coefficients, Kappa coefficients, and percent agreement. Results: Kappa coefficients and percent agreement for 9 categorical items ranged from 0.65 to 0.96 and from 64.0% to 98.2%, respectively. Among these items, the lowest Kappas were found for perceived safety (0.65) and reported duration of visits for recreational purposes (0.67). Spearman rank correlation coefficients for travel distance to and on the trail and frequency of trail use during the past 7 days and past 4 weeks ranged from 0.62 to 0.93. Conclusion: Though further assessments of this survey with different populations and types of trails may be warranted, its overall high reliability indicates it can be used by researchers and practitioners in its current form.


Relationships between the built environment and walking and weight status among older women in three U.S. states(Link)

Journal of Aging and Physical Activity
March 2013

There are few studies of built environment associations with physical activity and weight status among older women in large geographic areas that use individual residential buffers to define environmental exposures. Among 23,434 women (70.0±6.9 years; range = 57-85) in 3 states, relationships between objective built environment variables and meeting physical activity recommendations via walking and weight status were examined. Differences in associations by population density and state were explored in stratified models. Population density (odds ratio (OR)=1.04 [1.02, 1.07]), intersection density (ORs=1.18-1.28), and facility density (ORs=1.01-1.53) were positively associated with walking. Density of physical activity facilities was inversely associated with overweight/obesity (OR=0.69 [0.49, 0.96]). The strongest associations between facility density variables and both outcomes were found among women from higher population density areas. There was no clear pattern of differences in associations across states. Among older women, relationships between accessible facilities and walking may be most important in more densely populated settings. (Epub, in press)



California State University, Chico

  • Physical Activity Epidemiology (KINE 386)

Purdue University

  • Personal and Community Health (HK 219)
  • Women's Health (HK 225)

Cal Poly State University

  • Chronic and Communicable Disease Prevention (KINE 298)
  • Research Methods in Health and Human Performance (KINE 319)

California State University, Chico

  • Statistical Methods in Kinesiology Research (KINE 601)
  • Research Design in Kinesiology (KINE 602)


Purdue University

PhD, Health and Kinesiology

Activities and Societies: Public Health Student Association, Health and Kinesiology Graduate Student Organization, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Alfred P. Sloan - Purdue American Indian Graduate Program

California State University-Chico

M.A., Kinesiology

Activities and Societies: Focus on physical activity and aging, 50Plus Fitness

California State University-Chico

B.S., Exercise Physiology

Activities and Societies: Pre-Physical Therapy, American College of Sports Medicine Certification, Dean's Honor Roll, Phi Kappa Phi Honor's Society

Honors & Awards

2011-2012 Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship
May 2010 Carol J. Widule Outstanding Graduate Student Scholar
2007-2012 Alfred P. Sloan Indigenous Graduate Scholarship
2007-2008 David M. Ross Fellowship

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