Green neighborhoods lower childhood obesity



kids in park

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NEW YORK: Children living in urban neighborhoods with ample parks and yards have a lower chance of weight gain, according to new research.

Childhood obesity can lead to a multitude of health problems, including Type 1 diabetes, asthma, hypertension, sleep apnea and emotional problems.

A new study showed that children living in greener areas had lower weight gain over a two year period. Other improvements included better cognitive functioning and reduced attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms.

"Kids don't necessarily constrain their physical activity to sidewalks, so it is important to look at greenness, which includes parks and yards, with respect to children's health," said Janice Bell, a health services expert at the University of Washington in Seattle, US.

Bell and her team published their work earlier this week in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Reduced body mass index

The team used data from a medical clinic, located in an urban neighborhood in Indiana, US, which included information on childrens' body mass index (BMI) taken over a two year period.

Home address information was used to map the children across the neighborhood. The map was then compared to specialised satellite images that measured how reflective the area was to the sun's light, which showed how much green space was present.

Because grass and trees absorb a great deal of light, green areas like parks and yards are seen as dark patches on satellite images. This technology is typically used by physical geographers to measure rates at which jungles and forests grow and shrink over time.

The mapping showed that greener neighbourhoods were significantly associated with lower BMI, even when the data was controlled for socioeconomic status, another factor in childhood obesity.

More room to play

According to Bell, this could be because the children with lower BMI scores had more access to parks and yards, where they might engage in physical activities. Some research has suggested that green space also improves mental health, Bell said.

Commenting in the same journal issue, Nicholas Wareham, from the Institute of metabolic Science in Cambridge, England, called Bell's research "an important contribution."

While Wareham acknowledged the theory that the greenness might increase physical activity, he also noted that it "could be associated with other factors that lead to weight gain such as dietary behaviour."

Bell said that future research will apply similar methods in other US cities, and may also include a nation-wide survey.