Influences of Physical and Social Neighborhood Environments on Children's Physical Activity and Obesity

This article examines how the physical and social neighborhood environments where fifth graders live and play affect their levels of physical activity and obesity rates.

What researchers found: Controlling for differing sociodemographic factors among the children, a favorable social environment was positively associated with multiple physical activity measures. Physical activity was negatively associated with obesity in children. No significant association existed between physical environment and physical activity. These findings suggest that both neighborhood social factors and the physical environment ought to be considered in new interventions and health policy to reduce childhood obesity.

Why we chose this publication: While previous research has demonstrated the association between perceived safety and children’s physical activity levels, this study suggests that higher levels of collective efficacy, collective socialization of children, and neighborhood exchange are also strongly associated with increased physical activity. Both the physical environment and neighborhood social factors should be considered for future childhood obesity prevention policies and interventions.

What researchers studied: Researchers collected data on 650 fifth-graders and one of their primary caregivers from the first phase of Healthy Passages, a multisite, community-based cross-sectional study of children’s health. Field researchers measured both height and weight of students using standard measures. Interviews with the students and the caregivers provided anthropomorphic information, which were statistically analyzed.