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'Smart Growth' Neighborhood Kids Get More Exercise, Study Finds

By Sam Goodwin | Sep 11, 2013 04:30 AM EDT

Racial bias can be present as young as seven.
Racial bias can be present as young as seven. (Photo : Flickr)

Researchers of a new study have found that kids living in neighborhoods that have lots of parks and greenery are likely to get more exercise.

'Smart growth" neighborhoods are those that have lots of parks and greenery and increase the level of "walkabilty." In a new study, researchers found that kids living in such neighborhoods get 46 percent more moderate or vigorous physical activity than kids who live in conventional neighborhoods.

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"We were surprised by the size of the effect," said Michael Jerrett, Ph.D., professor in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author on the study, in a press release.

For the study, researchers examined the activity patterns in children aged 8 to 14 who recently moved to a smart growth community. The researchers compared them with children living in eight nearby conventional communities, matched for ethnicity and family income. All study participants wore small accelerometers and global positioning system (GPS) devices to measure their activity levels and determine how much activity occurred outside the home but within the neighborhood. These devices recorded information regarding the children's physical activities for seven days.

Researchers found that children who lived in "smart growth" neighborhoods indulged in 10 minutes more of physical activities than children who lived in conventional neighborhoods.

"Ten minutes of extra activity a day may not sound like much, but it adds up," said Jerrett. "Taking in as little as 15 calories more than you expend on a daily basis can lead to weight gain over time," he noted. "A child who weighs 100 pounds might burn an extra 30 calories in those 10 extra minutes of physical activity each day. The basic idea is that even small things count."

Researchers found that younger children who lived in "smart growth" neighborhoods were 62 percent more active than older ones and boys were 42 percent more active than girls.   Earlier studies found that while 42 percent of children aged between 6 and 11 years get the recommended amount of physical activity; this number significantly drops to 8 percent among children aged 12 to 19.

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