Neighborhood surroundings may affect whether children are overweight

Research Activities, April 2010, No. 356

Children who live in low-income neighborhoods tend to live close to many fast food restaurants and are at higher risk for being overweight than children who live in affluent areas, a new study finds. Massachusetts researchers used geographic information systems to pinpoint locations of fast food restaurants, proximity to public transportation and schools, and availability of recreation areas. They then used height and weight data in medical records to determine the prevalence of overweight and obese children in Massachusetts neighborhoods.

The 3,334 children from high-income areas (average household income of $123,006) tended to live farther from fast food restaurants and have fewer burger joints to choose from than the 3,346 children from low-income areas (average household income of $35,800). The researchers estimate that a child in a low-income area could find fast food within 7 minutes of home, but a wealthier child faced a 21-minute hike to an unhealthy feast.

Children from wealthy neighborhoods tended to walk an average of 30 minutes to school and have access to open play areas, while children from low-income areas walked just 12 minutes to school and had fewer open areas to play in. Only 12 percent of the children from high-income towns were obese compared with 29 percent of the children from low-income towns. The authors suggest that children who live in affluent areas encounter more environmental features that promote energy expenditure and exercise, while less affluent children have limited opportunities for exercise but ample access to junk food. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32HS00063).

See "Built environment and weight disparities among children in high- and low-income towns," by Nicolas M. Oreskovic, M.D., M.P.H., Karen A. Kuhlthau, Ph.D., Diane Romm, Ph.D., and James M. Perrin, M.D., in the September/October 2009 Academic Pediatrics 9(5), pp. 315-321.

Current as of April 2010
Internet Citation: Neighborhood surroundings may affect whether children are overweight: Research Activities, April 2010, No. 356. April 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/apr10/0410RA14.html