Researchers have challenged the belief that living near a fast food outlet increases weight-related problems in kids, and that living near fresh fruit and vegetable-selling supermarkets lowers weight.
The researchers at Indiana Unversity-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) compared children's weights over time before and after one of these food purveyors moved near the kids' residences.
They observed that living near a fast food outlet had little effect on weight, and that living near a supermarket did not lower it.
The team, however, found that residing near certain recreational amenities-fitness areas, kickball diamonds, and volleyball courts-lowered children's body mass indexes.
They reckon that locating one such facility near the home of an overweight eight-year-old boy could lower his weight by three to six pounds.
According to them, living in proximity to a track and field facility, typically on the campus of a middle or high school, was found to be linked with weight gain.
"This study contradicts anecdotal information and provides scientifically verified insights into a wide range of variables that we hope will help physicians and public policy makers fight childhood obesity more effectively," said the study's first author Dr. Robert Sandy, professor of economics and assistant executive vice president of Indiana University.
Published in the National Bureau of Economic Research's Economic Aspects of Obesity, the IUPUI research looked at data for more than 60,000 children between the ages of 3 and 18.
The children were 53 percent African-American, 30 percent Caucasian and 12 percent Hispanic. Most of the subjects were poor, and publicly insured.
The effect of each environmental change, such as the closing of a fast food establishment or installation of a baseball diamond, was studied at 0.10 mile, 0.25 mile, 0.50 mile, and 1.00 mile from the children's residences.
"Previous studies did not benefit from the wide range of information we acquired such as details of both sick and well doctor visits, changes in a child's address, annual food service establishment inspection data, aerial photographs of neighborhoods and crime statistics over time. And other studies have not taken into account, as we did, families self-selecting their locations, for example families who value exercise may be more likely to live near a park," said Dr. Sandy.