Linking Neighborhoods and Childhood Obesity

By Susan Littlefield

We've probably all heard the real estate maxim, ″Location, location, location!″ Well, it turns out to be true for more than just housing values. It also plays a role in the problem of childhood obesity. Two recent studies, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and described online on the Science News website, found that children living in neighborhoods lacking green spaces like parks that afford opportunities for physical activity and that were without ready access to a grocery store were about twice as likely to be obese as children living in areas that afforded these amenities.

In one study, researchers from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver rated the built environment in hundreds of neighborhoods in the San Diego and Seattle areas on the number and quality of their parks, their general ″walkability,″ and whether they had easy access to a grocery store selling fresh fruits and vegetables. They then evaluated 681 children randomly selected from among these neighborhoods, correlating their health information with their neighborhood amenity score, while taking into account differences in factors such as sex, race, ethnicity, household income, and the body mass index of parents. They determined that children living in neighborhoods with high physical activity and nutrition scores were 59 percent less likely to be obese than similar children in neighborhoods with low scores.

This research points out the vital importance of encouraging not only easy access to stores selling healthful food in urban neighborhoods, but the development of green spaces like safe parks, playgrounds, and school and community gardens with pedestrian-friendly ways to reach them. Says researcher Lawrence Frank, an urban planner and public health researcher who conducted this study along with colleagues, ″We've engineered out of our communities the ability to travel on foot to things nearby. If we want to reverse the obesity epidemic, we need to reverse the way we're building our communities.″

To read more about the link between neighborhoods and obesity, go to: Science News.

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