A study conducted by the University of Michigan's researchers has revealed that those children who live in surroundings which are considered unsafe are likely to put on weight. As many as 16% of those belonging to the 6 to 11 year age group in the US are reported to be overweight, while in the UK the number of six to 15-year-olds who are overweight has tripled since the early 1990s.
The researchers, led by Julie Lumeng, looked at data from 768 children and their families of 10 areas across America. Parents completed questionnaires that assessed how safe they thought their areas were at the time their children were in first grade - when they were aged six. The ratings were divided into quarters, with the first quartile perceived as the least safe and the fourth as safest.
Their children's height and weight had been measured in the laboratory when they were four-and-a half years old and again during the spring of the first-grade year in school, when their average age was seven. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated by dividing their weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.
The researchers found that 17% of the children living in the first quartile were overweight, compared with 10% in the second quartile, 13% in the third quartile and only 4% of children living in the fourth, safest quartile.
This link was not affected by other factors such as the education levels or marital status of the children's mothers, racial or ethnic backgrounds or participation in after-school activities.
The study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine suggests more attention should be paid to the effect surroundings had on children's health.
For the individual physician, these results suggest the need to understand the character of a child's neighborhood when making recommendations for lifestyle and activity changes aimed at obesity prevention and treatment, the researchers said.