How the Built Environment is Contributing to Childhood Obesity

In the midst of a health-obsessed society, youth obesity continues to be a major issue in the United States — in the past 30 years, obesity had more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. It turns out that the neighborhoods in which children are raised has a lot to do with the public health crisis.

Researchers from the University of Missouri and the University of Minnesota have found that by increasing the availability of public lands like nature trails and forests, local governments can take meaningful steps towards reducing childhood obesity. The study found that counties with more trails and forests had higher levels of youth activity and lower youth obesity than counties with fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation.

While the study’s findings make a lot of sense, the article failed to account for socioeconomic variations among the various Minnesota towns surveyed. Research published in the journal Health and Place found that poorer neighborhoods were associated with poorer health, because many of them lack access to the same recreational areas mentioned above. Even if there were parks and trails, they were often unsafe to utilize because of high crime rates.

A recent study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the level of childhood obesity had actually stabilized throughout the country with nearly 17% of children and young adults being classified as obese. A leveling off is obviously better than an increase, but there remains much work to be done. Early childhood is particularly important because research tells us that if you can avoid obesity early on, you’re much more likely to maintain a healthy weight into adolescence and adulthood.

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