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Walkable neighborhoods -- with sidewalks, parks and paths -- encourage pregnant women to get more exercise, which leads to good outcomes for both mom and baby.
New research looks at the influence of these walkable communities on this activity, which is considered safe for pregnant women.
“Gestational diabetes is a growing issue and low birth weight and preterm babies are always a concern, they can just have so many more complications,” said Karen Conway, a professor at University of New Hampshire Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. “At the end of the day, the data shows walkable communities mean mom and the baby are both in better health.”
To study this, Conway and co-author Andrea Menclova, associate professor of economics at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, combined walkability measures created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with federal government data on physical activity and pregnancy outcomes.
A 10-point increase in the walkability index -- the equivalent of transitioning from the "least walkable" to the "most walkable" category -- was associated with a more than 70-minute increase in weekly exercise among pregnant women.
That same change increased the likelihood of a full-term birth by almost a full percentage point. It also led to a 27-gram (nearly 1 ounce) increase in birth weight; a 27% reduction in likelihood of gestational diabetes, and a 16% reduction in high blood pressure.
The study did not find a clear link between walking and a mother's weight gain or high birth weight in the baby.
“We know that walkability may have other health benefits beyond encouraging more exercise,” Conway said in a university news release. “Living in an area more suitable for walking gets people outside and interacting with neighbors and relating to others in the community and all of those types of social and intrinsic activities can contribute to better overall health.”
The study is part of a broader area of health economics that uses established data to analyze factors and policies that affect health outcomes. Its goal is to provide evidence that can help shape policies and inform local governments about cost-effective interventions that can improve residents' health outcomes.
The study was published in the August edition of the journal Economics & Human Biology.
The March of Dimes has more on exercise during pregnancy.
SOURCE: University of New Hampshire, news release, Aug. 17, 2023
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