Kids these days ...
It's been apparent for a while now that America's children are becoming alarmingly rotund. Obesity rates have skyrocketed, tripling among children in the last 30 years, with the increase assumed by most to be powered by Chicken McNuggets and Xbox. A recent study by the Seattle Children's Research Institute and its professor of pediatrics, Brian Saleans, published this week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, confirms that fast food and activity are major players, but the kind of neighborhood a child is raised in also plays a role in how fat little Johnny and Sally become.
Kids these days ...
A press release from the Seattle Children's Research Institute describes the recently-release study as, "among the first neighborhood environment studies to look at a combination of nutrition and physical activity environments and to assess children and their parents," and also "among the largest studies of its kind to use objective geographic information system (GIS) data to examine the physical activity and healthy food option attributes of a neighborhood related to obesity."
KUOW's Ruby de Luna spoke with Saleans, who explained the study in laymen's terms, noting that urban sprawl and the fast food explosion have changed America's landscape and all-around health.
From KUOW's story:
Saleans says those changes affect our physical activity and lifestyle choices. In the past, studies have shown there's a link between environment and obesity in adults. But Saleans and his colleagues wanted to see if that link applies to children as well.
Saleans: "So we selected neighborhoods both in King County and San Diego County that we thought were really good for physical activity and nutrition. For example, neighborhoods that you can walk to destinations, where there were good, high-quality parks versus neighborhoods where there was no place to walk to and there weren't any good parks."
Simply put, the study found that if there are no parks, no reasons to be active and no quality food options - basically the current template for suburban sprawl - these factors can wreak havoc on the future health of our kids.
The study concludes:
The magnitude of the difference in obesity rates between the most obesogenic and least obesogenic neighborhood types was notable, about 8% for children and 7% for adults. Present findings suggest that environmental changes could have important effects on obesity rates of children and adults. There is concern that many children and their caregivers in the U.S. live in unsupportive environments that fail to provide better access to healthy nutrition and physical activity opportunities.
Find the full press release from the Seattle Children's Research Institute on the next page.
Seattle Children's Research Institute press release:
Zip Code as Important as Genetic Code in Childhood Obesity
April 10, 2012
Neighborhood supermarket and park proximity directly related to obesity, study finds
Nearly 18 percent of U.S. school-aged children and adolescents are obese, as the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity puts children at greater risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and other illnesses, and of suffering severe obesity as adults. New study results indicate that where a child lives, including factors such as the neighborhood's walkability, proximity to higher quality parks, and access to healthy food, has an important effect on obesity rates. Researchers found that children living in neighborhoods with favorable neighborhood environment attributes had 59 percent lower odds of being obese.
"Obesogenic Neighborhood Environments, Child and Parent Obesity: The Neighborhood Impact on Kids Study" was published in a special theme issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Led by Brian Saelens, PhD, of Seattle Children's Research Institute, this is among the first neighborhood environment studies to look at a combination of nutrition and physical activity environments and to assess children and their parents. It is also among the largest studies of its kind to use objective geographic information system (GIS) data to examine the physical activity and healthy food option attributes of a neighborhood related to obesity.
Researchers used GIS to assess Seattle and San Diego area neighborhoods' nutrition and physical activity environments. Nutrition environments were defined based on supermarket availability and concentration of fast food restaurants. Physical activity environments were defined based on environmental factors related to neighborhood walkability and at least one park with more or better amenities for children. Kids that lived in neighborhoods that were poorer in physical activity and nutrition environment had the highest rates of obesity--almost 16 percent--in the study. This figure is similar to the national average. On the flip side, only eight percent of children were obese in neighborhoods where physical activity and nutrition environments were positive.
"People think of childhood obesity and immediately think about an individual's physical activity and nutrition behaviors, but they do not necessarily equate obesity with where people live," said Dr. Saelens, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. "Everyone from parents to policymakers should pay more attention to zip codes because they could have a big impact on weight."
Fast food may not be as easy to come by in the Seattle area, based on the study. There were 3,474 fast food locations in San Diego County, as compared to 1,660 in King County, Wash. On a county-level block group average basis, San Diego had 2.0 fast food locations per block group, and King County had 1.1.
Numerous national health organizations have identified neighborhood environment and built environment, including healthy food and physical activity opportunities, as important factors in childhood obesity, including the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Our data support recommendations from these groups that we need to change our environments to make them more supportive of physical activity and nutrition," said Saelens.
Dr. Saelens' co-authors were: James Sallis, PhD, University of California San Diego; Lawrence Frank, PhD, University of British Columbia; Sarah Couch, PhD, RD, University of Cincinnati; Chuan Zhou, PhD, Seattle Children's Research Institute; Trina Colburn, PhD, Seattle Children's Research Institute; Kelli Cain, MA, University of California San Diego Research Foundation; James Chapman, MSCE, Urban Design 4 Health, Inc.; Karen Glanz, PhD, MPH, University of Pennsylvania.
• "Obesogenic Neighborhood Environments, Child and Parent Obesity: The Neighborhood Impact on Kids Study" http://www.ajpmonline.org/webfiles/images/journals/amepre/AMEPRE_3373-stamped.pdf
• Press Release: Seattle Children's Recommends Strategies for Reducing Childhood Obesity Rates http://www.seattlechildrens.org/Press-Releases/2011/Seattle-Children's-Recommends-Strategies-for-Reducing-Childhood-Obesity-Rates/
• Institute of Medicine Report: Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309091969
• Institute of Medicine Report Brief: Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2009/ChildhoodObesityPreventionLocalGovernments/local%20govts%20obesity%20report%20brief%20FINAL%20for%20web.ashx