October 11, 2011

Step Outside! See What’s Making Our Kids Fat

(Ivanhoe Newswire) --What do access to playgrounds, food corner stores, and socioeconomic status all have in common? According to researchers, they could all be major reasons behind the rising obesity rates in America´s youth. The research was presented at the Obesity Society´s 29th annual scientific conference held in Orlando, Florida.

Nicolas M. Oreskovic, M.D., MPH, a practicing internist and pediatrician, at Harvard Medical School, presented a review of studies he and other researchers have conducted examining the many different factors that impact a child´s likelihood of becoming obese or overweight. They referred to these factors as built environments. The concept refers to how the design, and placement of buildings inside a community, as well as the design of the surrounding community may impact a person´s health. The built environment includes schools, sidewalks, subway stations, bicycle trails, open space, and fast-food restaurants.

For one of his studies, Dr. Oreskovic and his colleagues wanted to assess differences in built environment and child weight, and associations between them in high- and low-income communities. In order to do this they analyzed cross-sectional clinical and demographic data for children aged two to 18 years from an integrated health system in Massachusetts.

The study sampled more than 21,000 children. The research revealed that low-income towns had more sidewalks, less open space, a greater density of fast food restaurants, and higher rates of obesity. In low-income-town children, density of fast food restaurants was positively associated with overweight and obesity, whereas distance to nearest age-appropriate school and fast food restaurant were inversely associated with obesity.

Another important fact Dr. Oreskovic pointed out was the dramatic decrease in the number of students walking to school now compared with 40 years ago.

"Studies show in 1960 nearly 44 percent of children walked to school, in 2009 that number had dropped to only 13 percent. Children who walk to school have overall higher physical activity, and that distance to school is the strongest predictor of active travel, Dr. Oreskovic told Ivanhoe.

Overall, children from low-income towns appeared to have more consistent associations between weight status and the built environment. Children living in low-income towns tend to have built environments that promote an intake of calorically dense foods and a decrease of energy expenditure, which thus increases the likelihood of obesity.

Source: Obesity 2011: The 29th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Obesity Society -Orlando, FL