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A closer examination of the relationship between children's weight status and the food and physical activity environment

Summary


Living within half a mile of a park may lower a child’s risk of being overweight or obese by more than half

Researchers have reported conflicting findings regarding the relationship between food and physical activity (PA) environments and children’s obesity status. The conflicting results may be due to different ways of measuring proximity to environmental factors, recruitment of child and adolescent samples of different age ranges, a focus on only limited aspects of either the food or PA environment, differences in what geographic characteristics are studied, and failure to consider the food and PA environments together. Clarity regarding this association is necessary in order to inform effective interventions. The purpose of this study was to assess relationships between the food and PA environments in four inner-city New Jersey neighborhoods and children’s weight status to address sources of conflicting findings of prior research.

Data were collected from 702 primarily minority children within the broad age range of 3 and 18 years during 2009 and 2010. The Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated for each child using parent-measured heights and weights and Centers for Disease Control growth charts. Proximity of a child’s home to food outlets (such as supermarkets, convenience stores and fast food restaurants) and PA outlets (such as private and public facilities and parks) was measured in roadway network miles (how a car would travel) and within various radiuses (as the crow flies) using geo-coded information. Numbers of food and PA outlets were also measured to understand the importance of density of facilities. A variety possible individual and community-level confounds were controlled for in analysis. Data were analyzed using several types of multivariate analyses to assess the relationship between proximity of food and PA outlets and weight status.

The authors found that children and adolescents living close (within ¼ mile) to convenience stores in densely populated, low-income communities are more likely to be overweight or obese, and those who have a large park (more than 1 acre) near their home (within a ½ mile) are less likely to be overweight or obese. No associations were found for other types of food and PA outlets. These results were consistently found using several types of analysis. The authors conclude that aspects of the food and PA environments are predictors of weight status among children, but the ability to detect these relationships is dependent on aspects of the geospatial landscape of each community. Studies tailoring their measurements to the specific characteristics of the locales studied (such as using smaller radiuses when studying densely populated communities with a high density of, for example, fast food establishments) are more likely to be able to document these associations.

Citation

Ohri-Vachaspati, P., Llyod, K., DeLia, D., Tulloch, D., Yedidia, M.J, (2013). A closer examination of the relationship between children's weight status and the food and physical activity environment. Preventive Medicine, 57(3), 162-167.

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