Neighborhood Planning Could Help More Kids Avoid Obesity

THURSDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- Children have a better chance of avoiding the obesity epidemic if they live in neighborhoods where they can safely walk, bike and have access to parks and sports fields, researchers say.

The three-year study included more than 12,000 students in grades 8 through 10 who lived in urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods.

"Young teens who can walk and bike safely near home and have access to physical activity settings are much more likely to be active and much less likely to be obese," lead author Sandy Slater, a research assistant professor at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a news release.

Safety is another important factor.

"Perceptions of neighborhood safety were one of the strongest predictors of physical activity. If kids don't feel safe walking or biking in their neighborhood then they're not likely to use outdoor physical activity-related settings or facilities," Slater said.

The study is scheduled to be published online and in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

When selecting a new neighborhood, parents may want to look beyond whether the local school has a good sports field and other recreational facilities, suggested Heather Wooten, a senior planning and policy associate with Planning for Healthy Places at Public Health Law and Policy.

"They should also look at whether their teens can walk or bike to school, and whether they can walk or bike to nearby destinations -- whether those destinations are parks or a YMCA or even the local library," Wooten said in the news release.

Playgrounds, which appeal to younger children, are unlikely to encourage older kids to be active. Accessible teen-friendly destinations, such as movie theaters and skate parks, can motivate adolescents to get moving, the experts suggest.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, May 28, 2010