Children who live in "smart growth" neighborhoods--developments that are designed to increase walkability and have more parks and green space areas--get 46 percent more moderate or vigorous physical activity than kids who live in conventional neighborhoods, finds a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"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.
He and his colleagues evaluated activity patterns in children aged 8 to 14 who recently moved to a smart growth community called The Preserve near Chino, CA. The researchers compared them with children living in eight nearby conventional communities, matched for ethnicity and family income.
The children 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. The devices collected and recorded information about their physical activity for seven days and determined that living in a smart growth community would add 10 minutes of activity for each child each day.
"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," he said.