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Designing Healthier Neighborhoods for Kids

Photo by richardmasoner, available under a Creative Commons license. Nearly a third of all children are overweight, often caused by factors such as poor nutrition...
by | June 29, 2009
 

Photo by richardmasoner, available under a Creative Commons license.

Nearly a third of all children are overweight, often caused by factors such as poor nutrition and lack of exercise. Pediatricians see another potential culprit: poor community design. While doctors can advise parents to encourage exercise, the recommendation is useless if there aren't safe places to walk, ride bikes or play. Previously, neighborhood schools were focal points of the community, and many children walked to school. But past state-adopted policies required future schools to be located on acres of land, and untouched parcels were often located on the outskirts of urban areas. In 2001, only 13 percent of children walked to school. In a number of surveys, parents most often claimed that the reason their kids did not walk was because schools were located too far away. Traffic, weather and crime also contribute to this. While the research on the link between our living environments and physical activity has been limited, past studies have suggested that neighborhood design does influence children's physical activity. The American Academy of Pediatrics' recent policy statement addressed these concerns and issued a number of recommendations specifically for governments, including:

o Encouraging legislation that places children's ability to walk and play as a top priority in planning and zoning efforts

o Create and maintain open spaces and playgrounds that are easily and safely accessible

o Consider children's commutes in the planning of a new school

o Fund research on the relationship of how neighborhoods affect physical activity

o When possible, place new government buildings in areas where they are accessible by foot to serve as community models

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner  |  Deputy Editor, GOVERNING.com
ttrenkner@governing.com  |  @tinatrenkner

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