Feature Article - April 2009
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Reaching Out

Recreation in Underserved Communities

By Stacy St. Clair


alifornia enjoys diversity in its geography, its climate, its industries and its people. But the state's impoverished teens, regardless of their location, have much in common: sugary soda, myriad fast-food restaurants, too much television and not enough exercise.

The results, as one would imagine, are troubling. Low-income teens in California are almost three times more likely to be obese than their peers from more affluent households, according to new research from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. In California, 21 percent of teenagers live in low-income families, which the federal government defines as having incomes of less than $19,971 for a family of four. The state is home to about 480,000 obese adolescents from all income levels. But the high rate of obesity among low-income teens suggests that barriers to healthy behaviors, healthy foods and physical activity not only continue to exist but have grown even larger. Those barriers include high numbers of neighborhood fast-food restaurants and low numbers of parks and other opportunities for physical activity.

"Our neighborhoods are literally making us fat," said Susan H. Babey, one of the policy brief's authors. "We need better strategies and more thoughtful urban planning if we are going to make our towns and cities livable, not just places where we live."

The authors also called for greater opportunities for physical activity and education, as well as campaigns to promote family dinners and discourage excessive television viewing. It's an arduous task and one that must be undertaken in low-income communities throughout the United States.

In the fight against low-income obesity, three Bay Area projects serve as shining examples for all North American communities to follow. With careful planning, creative programming and thoughtful design, the three—one private and two public—show innovative ways impoverished areas are moving and improving.