Feature Article - September 2010
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Kids Get Active

After-School Programs to the Rescue

By Deborah L. Vence

The study, which originally was created to study asthma in children and the relationship with environmental variables and ultimately led to extensive research on childhood obesity, monitored children for eight years during which time height and weight data were surveyed actively.

"[Results showed] that proximity to both parks and public recreation were associated with less weight gain over time. This was pretty convincing and direct evidence between recreation resources and children's health as indicated by their weight gain. This links parks and recreation directly to childhood obesity and points to some solutions that children need access to parks and recreation facilities and programs," Sallis said.

The study involved research in 12 Southern California communities where 3,318 children between ages 10 and 18 were studied. Results showed that among boys at age 10, their average Body Mass Index (BMI) was 18.4 and 24.1 at age 18. Meanwhile, girls at age 10 had a BMI of 18.4 and 23.4 at age 18. The general characteristic of the study's communities comprised older central cities (Long Beach, Riverside), inner ring suburbs (San Dimas), suburbs (Lancaster, Mira Loma, Upland), distant exurbs (Lake Elsinore, Alpine) and rural/resort communities (Santa Maria, Atascadero, Lompoc, Lake Gregory). In addition, the mix of class and race/ethnicity comprised white, affluent and Latino, lower-income.

"One of the startling things is that there is a significant chunk of kids that have very bad geographical access [to recreation]," said Jennifer Wolch, Dean of the College of Environmental Design and William W. Wurster Professor of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., who headed up the study. "One of the hypotheses [based on the study's results] was that with better access to park space, you might [not be at risk] for obesity. Parks are protective of obesity."

The results showed that park space within 500 meters of a child's home was inversely associated with BMI at age 18; that public recreational programs 10 kilometers or less from a child's home also warded off obesity; and that many children have poor access to public recreational programs. Meanwhile, nearly 20 percent said that they have no access within 10 kilometers and 36 percent have no access within 5 kilometers.

What's more, the study indicated that if all children had comparable access to recreational programs: 11.26 percent of boys would move from the overweight to normal weight category and 3 percent from obese to overweight; while 8.5 percent of girls would move from the overweight to normal weight category and almost 3 percent from obese to overweight.