Investment in neighborhood parks may curb obesity rates, save costs

January 21, 2016 by Marc Ransford, Ball State University

It may sound simple, but adding a neighborhood park or playground can lower children's obesity rates and improve their physical fitness, says new research from Ball State University. And parks might reap immediate and long-term savings in health care.

"Do Neighborhood Parks and Playgrounds Reduce Childhood Obesity?" analyzed the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, which collected information on neighborhood parks and playgrounds as well as sidewalks and paths, community centers and 's clubs in all 50 states.

Researchers compared the weight of children with access to outdoor recreational facilities to those without a nearby park. The effects varied with gender, race, household income and neighborhood amenities, and the impact was greater among children in unsafe neighborhoods than those in safe neighborhoods.

"Neighborhood parks and playgrounds provide physical locations for children to engage in outdoor physical activity and to develop physically active lifestyles," said Maoyong Fan, a Ball State economics professor who conducted the study with Yanhong Jin, a Rutgers University professor. "These parks simply make children more fit. The children get to play outdoors and enjoy life much more than those who don't have access to such facilities."

Fan believes that by adding parks and playgrounds, the U.S. could spend less on as a result of the reduction of .

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity in the nation has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents over the past 30 years. The percentage of obese children ages 6-11 increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012. Over the same time, the percentage of obese adolescents ages 12-19 increased from 5 percent to nearly 21 percent.

Previous research estimates the annual direct medical costs in the U.S. for overweight children range from $3 billion to $14 billion. The hospital costs alone skyrocketed, from $35 million during 1979 to 1981 to $127 million during 1997 to 1999.

"Childhood obesity has long-lasting negative impacts on adult health, employment, productivity and socioeconomic status," Jin said. "From this perspective, the cost savings from playgrounds could be more significant in the long run."

Researchers pointed out their recent study found that neighborhood parks and playgrounds may make children more fit as they decrease body mass index (BMI), as well as lower the risk of being overweight or obese. BMI quantifies the amount of tissue mass (muscle, fat and bone) in an individual and is used to categorize that person as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

Fan said adding parks to a neighborhood may reduce the probability of being overweight or obese by about 3 percentage points for boys and by 5 to 6 percentage points for girls.

The study also found:

  • The effect is greater for ages 10-13 compared with those age 14-17.
  • Existence of community centers and kids' clubs reduces the effect of parks and among both boys and girls, but sidewalks and pathways enhance the effect.

Explore further: Low-income communities more likely to face childhood obesity

More information: Do Neighborhood Parks and Playgrounds Reduce Childhood Obesity? cms.bsu.edu/-/media/WWW/Images … ChildhoodObesity.pdf

Related Stories

Low-income communities more likely to face childhood obesity

January 7, 2016
For a long time researchers have tracked high rates of obesity among black and Hispanic kids, but a closer look at communities shows family income matters more than race in predicting which kids are overweight.

Childhood obesity starts at home

May 4, 2013
As parents, physicians and policymakers look for ways to curb childhood obesity, they may need to look no further than a child's own backyard.

Girls, boys and obesity

December 10, 2015
A recent study published in the Pediatric Obesity journal suggests that young girls who are either overweight or obese during childhood were more likely to remain obese as they progressed into young adulthood compared to ...

Study from England shows no garden access for young children linked to childhood obesity later in childhood

September 15, 2015
A study of 6467 children from England—presented at this year's annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Stockholm—shows that no access to a garden at age 3-5 years is linked to an ...

Kindergarten weight strong indicator of childhood obesity

January 29, 2014
A recent study by researchers from Emory's Rollins School of Public Health suggests that development of new childhood obesity cases, or incidence, is largely established by kindergarten. The study showed that overweight kindergarteners ...

Park amenities differ according to income of neighborhoods

March 21, 2013
Every community in America has its share of parks. However, park amenities in certain communities can be lacking, which can be detrimental to the health of potential patrons. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has found ...

Recommended for you

Food for thought: How the brain reacts to food may be linked to overeating

July 19, 2018
The reason why some people find it so hard to resist finishing an entire bag of chips or bowl of candy may lie with how their brain responds to food rewards, leaving them more vulnerable to overeating.

Children are less likely to be obese if mothers stick to a healthy lifestyle

July 4, 2018
Children of mothers who follow a healthy lifestyle have a substantially lower risk of developing obesity than children of mothers who don't make healthy lifestyle choices, finds a study published in The BMJ.

Normalisation of 'plus-size' risks hidden danger of obesity, study finds

June 22, 2018
New research warns that the normalisation of 'plus-size' body shapes may be leading to an increasing number of people underestimating their weight—undermining efforts to tackle England's ever-growing obesity problem.

Nearly all adolescents have eating, activity or weight-related issues

June 22, 2018
A new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that nearly all young people have struggles with eating, activity and weight as they move from adolescence to adulthood.

Obesity plagues rural America

June 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—Country folk are being hit harder by the U.S. obesity epidemic than city dwellers, two new government studies show.

Binging, purging and fasting more common in overweight, obese young adults

June 12, 2018
Young adults who are overweight or obese are twice as likely as their leaner peers to binge and purge, use laxatives or diuretics, or force themselves to vomit as a means of controlling their weight, according to a new study ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.