Neighborhood environments are recognized as an important contributor to childhood obesity, according to the White House Task Force Report on Childhood Obesity. A new study has found that children living in walkable built environments have lower BMI z-scores while children in poorly walkable built environments have higher BMI z-scores and greater increases in BMI over time.
Walkable built environments include neighborhoods with open recreational spaces and other favorable conditions for exercise, such as high residential density, traffic density, and sidewalk completeness. Neighborhoods that lack these characteristics may contribute to higher obesity rates in children in adolescents.
The study, led by Dr. Dustin Duncan, formerly of the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, was published online on September 23 in Environmental Health Perspectives (http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307704/). Dr. Duncan is now an assistant professor in New York University School of Medicine’s department of population health.
The study analyzed electronic medical record data from almost 50,000 pediatric patients in Massachusetts. This is the largest study to examine the link between neighborhood characteristics and childhood obesity rates. With childhood obesity rates on the rise, the study suggests that modifying neighborhood environments to make them more conducive to exercise may be an important target for policymakers.