The Impact of Neighborhood Characteristics on Physical Activity and Obesity in Low-Income Children
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The prevalence of childhood overweight/obesity has received much attention in recent years as a serious public health issue. There is a growing body of research concerning the role of the built environment in the obesity epidemic. For low income children, who are more likely to be obese, it is also likely that neighborhood safety plays an important factor in physical activity. In this study we examine how neighborhood safety and the built environment, influence the physical activity and obesity levels among low-income children. The study was based on two primary research questions: • To what degree do neighborhood safety and the built environment impact lowincome children’s physical activity levels? • Do these factors influence whether or not low income children are obese? Methods. Data was collected from a cross-sectional survey of 800 parents of children receiving Medicaid in four Florida counties. The survey included questions about perceived neighborhood safety, physical activity, and demographics. The child’s body mass index (BMI) was calculated based on parent-reported of height and weight. Our measures of the built environment were developed at the zip code level using Geographic Information System (GIS). We calculated four measures that have been shown in prior studies to contribute to “walkability” in neighborhoods: street connectivity, intersection density, density of major and local road miles, and the ratio of major road miles to local road miles. Findings. Results indicate that low income children’s physical activity is influenced by both neighborhood safety and walkability factors. In bivariate analysis, children more frequently walked for 10 or more minutes, and were more likely to walk or bike to school in areas where there was higher street intersection density. Children whose parents reported keeping their children inside due to safety concerns were less likely to take walks. Measures of neighborhood safety exhibited a positive relationship on parents’ satisfaction with the amount of exercise their children got. However, neither neighborhood safety nor walkability appears to influence obesity.