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Kids' Neighborhoods Influence Activity

Armen Hareyan's picture

Children's Exercise and Fitness

Kids who live in certain types of neighborhoods are likely to walk more often, a new study reveals, with boys more likely to walk if they have accessible destinations and girls more likely to walk if they believe it's easy to do so.

Boys in the study who had friends within walking or cycling distance were more physically active than their peers.

"Given that children spend much of their time in their local neighborhood, understanding influences on their physical activity in this setting is important," said study co-author Clare Hume, Ph.D., of the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Australia.

The study appears in the January/February issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Two hundred eighty Australian fifth-graders wore accelerometers for eight days so researchers could measure their overall physical activity, and they also reported their own weekly walking frequency.

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The researchers asked children about what destinations were within walking distance and how pleasant and safe they thought their neighborhoods were. Children also were asked if they had friends nearby, if they knew any neighbors or if there were other children to play with.

Boys and girls walked an average of 6.4 times a week in their neighborhoods. More than 70 percent of children could walk to 15 destinations, including a park, school, friend's house, shopping center and recreational center. Eighty-five percent of children said it was easy and safe to walk or cycle around their neighborhoods. Almost 80 percent said they knew lots of people in the area and had friends living nearby.

Boys with more accessible destinations made about one extra walking trip every two weeks, Hume said. Having friends and other children in the neighborhood and the general social environment were also associated with physical activity in boys. The researchers also found an unexpected positive correlation with boys' noticing lots of litter and physical activity.

Girls were more likely to walk if they felt their neighborhoods were easy to walk or cycle around, with these girls making about three more trips per week than other girls in the study. In addition, if girls noticed lots of graffiti, they made about two extra trips per week.

"We certainly don't think that perceiving more litter and graffiti in their neighborhood causes children to walk more," Hume said. "Rather, we think it's likely that children who are out in their neighborhoods more may be more aware of these factors."

Hume said she found it surprising that there were no associations between children's perceptions of neighborhood safety and their walking or physical activity. "This might be because most of these children thought their neighborhoods were safe," she said. "Studies have shown that parents are much more concerned about children's safety than children themselves are."

"Neighborhood environments are really important