The Trust for Public Land has produced a map highlighting areas of Jacksonville that are struggling with excessive childhood obesity rates. Is your neighborhood on the list?
What are the Forces and Influences at Work?
* Families are living in poverty: Obesity rates are generally the highest in communities with high levels of poverty and low levels of income. Low-income communities are often underserved by grocery stores and frequently have fewer places that are safe for children to play.
* Children do not have access to safe places to play and do not have enough opportunities for physical activities: Most children do not get the required amount of physical activity. A lack of safe places to play outside, community infrastructures that do not support walking and biking as a means of transportation and the recent elimination of physical education in schools has led to increased levels of obesity in children. Children living in neighborhoods considered unsafe by their parents are more likely to be overweight than children who live in what their parents consider to be safe neighborhoods. Moving from a high poverty area to a low poverty area is associated with a 50 percent increase in the overall availability of outdoor places to play and engage in physical activity.There are also significant race equity issues; communities with higher percentages of African American residents have fewer available parks and green spaces, places to play sports, public pools and beaches. Communities without safe places to engage in physical activity lead to less active children and higher rates of childhood obesity.
* Families do not have access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables: Living in communities without access to fresh foods limits the ability of parents to provide nutritious meals for their children, and this lack of access disproportionately affects minority and low-income families. In one study, fruit and vegetable consumption among African American families increased 32 percent for each additional supermarket in the local community. There are three times as many supermarkets in wealthy neighborhoods as in poor neighborhoods. Additionally, there are four times as many supermarkets in predominately white neighborhoods as in predominately African American neighborhoods.
* Children do not have healthy eating habits: The 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that only 9.5 percent of students eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Healthy eating habits are impacted not only by choice but by access to healthy foods in a child’s community and school. Developing healthy eating behavior early leads to reduced childhood obesity rates and an increased likelihood that a child will grow into a healthy adult.
Strategies: What Works to Accomplish the Results You Want?
What Can Policymakers Do?By supporting policies that provide incentives for grocery stores to locate in underserved communities and for small retailers to offer fresh fruits and vegetables, policymakers can address one of the most critical contributors to childhood obesity: the lack of access to healthy, nutritious and affordable food. Studies show that improved access to healthy food corresponds to healthier eating and lower rates of obesity and diabetes. In fact, people who live close to grocery stores are less likely to be overweight and obese. By increasing access to affordable, healthy food, policymakers can provide children and families with the opportunity to make healthy choices.
Improve access to affordable, healthy foods.
* Support healthy school initiatives. Supporting policies that require nutrition and physical education and improving the nutritional quality of foods served in schools not only helps to reduce obesity but also has been shown to improve academic achievement. Physically fit students are less likely to miss school, engage in risky behaviors, get pregnant or attempt suicide; the avoidance of these behaviors, in turn, leads to better academic outcomes. Children across the country spend their formative years in the country’s schools, and schools therefore remain a critical place for policymakers to implement childhood obesity prevention efforts.
* Support healthy community design. Policymakers can support community design initiatives that improve the health of children and families. Studies have found that children living in neighborhoods without parks and recreation centers are more likely to be overweight and obese. Having safe ways to walk to school, work and shop increases the physical activity in a community. The five state policy options that are most effective at encouraging physical activities, like biking and walking, are incorporating sidewalks and bike lanes into community design, providing funding for biking and walking in highway projects, establishing safe routes to school, fostering traffic-calming measures and creating incentives for mixed-use development. Supporting infrastructure change to allow and encourage physical activity is an opportunity for states to make short- and long-term investments that benefit the health of children and families.
Map Source: The Trust for Public Land
Article by Ennis Davis. Contact Ennis at email@example.com
Title image courtesy of realfittraining.wordpress.com