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

Lack of sleep leads to obesity in children and adolescents

April 16, 2018
Children who get less than the recommended amount of sleep for their age are at a higher risk of developing obesity.

Getting kids to a good weight by 13 may help avoid diabetes

April 4, 2018
There may be a critical window for overweight kids to get to a healthy level. Those who shed their extra pounds by age 13 had the same risk of developing diabetes in adulthood as others who had never weighed too much, a large ...

Obesity is shifting cancer to young adults

March 26, 2018
A Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researcher has compiled evidence from more than 100 publications to show how obesity increases risk of 13 different cancers in young adults. The meta-analysis describes ...

Obesity rates keep rising for U.S. adults

March 23, 2018
Obesity rates have continued to climb significantly among American adults, but the same hasn't held true for children, a new government report finds.

Obesity trigger identified within the human gut

March 22, 2018
The key chemical for happiness and sadness, serotonin, is also a force in our body's weight gain and calorie control, and scientists say more research could reduce obesity rates.

How obesity dulls the sense of taste

March 20, 2018
Previous studies have indicated that weight gain can reduce one's sensitivity to the taste of food, and that this effect can be reversed when the weight is lost again, but it's been unclear as to how this phenomenon arises. ...

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.