In an effort to better understand the multifaceted nature of childhood obesity, researchers are turning to geographic information systems (GIS) to analyze the role location and living environments play in whether children eat a healthy diet, get enough daily exercise or become overweight or obese.
A special report published in the May issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine includes a collection of six studies that suggest the characteristics of the neighborhoods where children live and play could be a contributing factor to the high rate of obesity in our country and elsewhere. ABC News reports:
In one study, researchers used geographic information to determine which neighborhoods in King County, Wash. and San Diego County, Calif. rated highest in terms of physical activity and nutrition for children ages 6 through 11. A neighborhood received a high rating if there were ample opportunities to walk to places, such as stores and libraries as well as highly-rated parks.
These neighborhoods also had numerous grocery stores or supermarkets where produce and healthy foods were available.
Neighborhoods that rated poorly had few markets available or had a large number of fast food restaurants and also did not offer many chances to walk or play in high-quality parks. There were also neighborhoods rated in between good and poor.
"The biggest difference we found in rates of obesity were in the places where the environment was good for both nutrition and physical activity, the rates were less than 8 percent, but if the nutrition and physical activity were not good, the rates went up to 16 percent," said Brian Saelens, a co-author and professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children's Research Institute.
Saelens added that researchers controlled for other variables that could contribute to obesity, such as income, family status and parental body mass index (BMI).
Other studies in the report found notable differences in daily physical activity levels and food choices of adolescents living in rural, suburban and urban environments suggesting that further study of spatial environments may have important implications for health, education and urban planning policy.
Previously: Hopkins researchers find place, rather than race, may be greater determinant of health, Living near fast food restaurants influences California teens' eating habits and Using GIS technology to visualize urban 'food deserts'
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