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Green space better for kids’ waistlines, health

Oct. 28, 2008
Courtesy Indiana University
and World Science staff

In an era of rampant obesity that has raised con­cerns over youth health in par­tic­u­lar, re­search­ers have found that for poor chil­dren, liv­ing in “green­er” neigh­bor­hoods is linked to slower weight gain.

The find­ings come from a study billed as the first to ex­am­ine the ef­fect of neigh­bor­hood parks and oth­er leafy ar­eas on in­ner city chil­dren’s weight over time.

Re­search­ers have found that for poor chil­dren, liv­ing in “green­er” neigh­bor­hoods is linked to slower weight gain. (Image cour­tesy City of Las Ve­gas, Nev.)


Past stud­ies have offered “snap­shots in time” show­ing ef­fects si­m­i­lar to this one, said Gil­bert Liu, sen­ior au­thor of the new re­search in the De­cem­ber is­sue of the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pre­ven­tive Med­i­cine

“Our new study of over 3,800 in­ner city chil­dren re­vealed that liv­ing in ar­eas with green space has a long term pos­i­tive im­pact on chil­dren’s weight and thus health,” added Liu, of the In­di­ana Uni­ver­s­ity School of Med­i­cine.

The study fol­lowed chil­dren ages 3 to 18 over two years. High­er neigh­bor­hood green­ness was as­so­ci­at­ed with slower in­creases in body mass in­dex—a stand­ard meas­ure of weight ex­cess or de­fi­cien­cy—re­gard­less of age, race, sex or res­i­den­tial dens­ity, sci­en­tists said. The chil­dren in the study were mainly African-A­mer­i­can and pub­lic­ly in­sured.

The re­search­ers used sat­el­lite im­ages to meas­ure green­ness, which was­n’t simply de­fined as parks. “Our re­search team adapted meth­ods, orig­i­nally de­vel­oped for ag­ri­cul­tur­ and for­est­ry re­search, to es­ti­mate green­ness,” said re­search group mem­ber Jef­frey S. Wil­son of In­di­ana Uni­ver­s­ity-Purdue Uni­ver­s­ity In­di­an­apolis.

“These meas­ures are af­fect­ed by all forms of vegeta­t­ion that are vis­i­ble to the sat­el­lite and take in­to con­sid­era­t­ion not only how much vegeta­t­ion is pre­s­ent, but how healthy that vegeta­t­ion is.” Trees and oth­er ur­ban vegeta­t­ion im­prove aes­thet­ics, re­duce pol­lu­tion and keep things cool­er, mak­ing the out­side a more at­trac­tive place to play, walk or run, sci­en­tists not­ed.

Child­hood obes­ity is as­so­ci­at­ed with a va­ri­e­ty of health prob­lems in­clud­ing type 2 di­a­be­tes, asth­ma, hy­per­ten­sion, sleep ap­nea and emo­tion­al dis­tress. Over the past 30 years, obes­ity has dou­bled in chil­dren age 2 to 5 and age 12 to 19 years and has tripled in chil­dren be­tween 6 and 11 years of age, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. In­sti­tute of Med­i­cine. 

Obese child are likely to be obese as adults in­creas­ing risk for car­di­o­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, high blood pres­sure, stroke and high­er health care costs. “Obes­ity is a na­tional ep­i­dem­ic,” said Liu, a pe­di­a­tri­cian. “Our lifestyle makes us sed­en­tary and less healthy. For chil­dren, phys­i­cal ac­ti­vity is ac­tive play and that usu­ally take place out­doors. We need to en­cour­age them to go out­side and play.”


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Amid an obesity epidemic that has raised concerns about children’s health in particular, researchers have found that for poor children, living in “greener” neighborhoods is linked to slower weight gain. The findings come from a study billed as the first to examine the effect of neighborhood parks and other leafy areas on inner city children’s weight over time. Past studies have “provided snap shots in time” showing effects similar to the new one, said Gilbert Liu, senior author of the new research in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Our new study of over 3,800 inner city children revealed that living in areas with green space has a long term positive impact on children’s weight and thus health,” added Liu, of the Indiana University School of Medicine. The study followed children ages 3 to 18 over two years. Higher neighborhood greenness was associated with slower increases in body mass index—a standard measure of weight excess or deficiency—regardless of age, race, sex or residential density, scientists said. The children in the study were mainly African-American and publically insured. The researchers used satellite images to measure greenness, which wasn’t simply defined as parks. “Our research team adapted methods, originally developed for agricultural and forestry research, to estimate greenness,” said research group member Jeffrey S. Wilson of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “These measures are affected by all forms of vegetation that are visible to the satellite and take into consideration not only how much vegetation is present, but how healthy that vegetation is.” Trees and other urban vegetation improve aesthetics, reduce pollution and keep things cooler, making the outside a more attractive place to play, walk or run, scientists noted. Childhood obesity is associated with a variety of health problems including type 2 diabetes, asthma, hypertension, sleep apnea and emotional distress. Over the past 30 years, obesity has doubled in children age 2 to 5 and age 12 to 19 years and has tripled in children between 6 and 11 years of age, according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine. Obese child are likely to be obese as adults increasing risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke and higher health care costs. “Obesity is a national epidemic,” said Liu, a pediatrician. “Our lifestyle makes us sedentary and less healthy. For children, physical activity is active play and that usually take place outdoors. We need to encourage them to go outside and play.”