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Contact: Karen Astle
karen.astle@heart.org
214-706-1392
American Heart Association

Children living near green spaces are more active

Children at high risk of obesity who live near parks and recreation areas are apt to participate in walking activities more often, researchers reported at the American Heart Association's Conference on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism.

In a Canadian study, the presence of nearby parks was strongly associated with girls walking to school and boys engaging in leisure walking. For every additional park located within a half mile of their home, the likelihood of walking to school more than doubled among girls and leisure walking by boys increased by 60 percent. Results were similar even after taking into account family income and the average level of education in the neighborhood, an indicator of area disadvantage.

"There was a strong association between walking and the number of nearby public open recreational spaces, including neighborhood parks, playgrounds and sports fields," said Tracie A. Barnett, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a researcher at Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center and Université de Montréal in Montreal, Canada. "We were able to relate the proximity and number of parks to how often children aged 8-10 years walked. This is important because active transportation is a promising public health strategy for increasing overall physical activity, and for helping to curb the obesity epidemic. We know that walking to school has been decreasing steadily for the past 30 years; concurrent increases in overweight and obesity suggest that these two phenomena may be linked."

The results are based on the first 300 families enrolled into the Quebec Adipose and Lifestyle Investigation in Youth (QUALITY) study in which researchers are following over 600 children and both biological parents to study the natural history of excess weight and cardiometabolic risk in children.

"Obesity in children and adolescents has tripled in the past 20 or so years," Barnett said. "Although obesity has many causes, this relatively sudden and steep increase suggests that the drivers of the obesity epidemic are largely environmental rather than biological or genetic in nature."

In this study, researchers examined the relationship between park availability and proximity, and walking. All the children were considered at high risk for future obesity because at least one of their parents was obese. Clinic visits determined body fat distribution, fitness, metabolic, genetic/familial, and behavioral factors that could lead to obesity. Both parents and children completed questionnaires during the clinic visit, and children provided a seven-day recall of walking for leisure and their usual methods of getting to and from school. Location of parks was obtained using a geographic information system.

In this sample, researchers found: