Public Housing Play Time

Children who live in urban public housing spend more time playing outside

February 22, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) According to a recent study, kids who live in urban public housing spend more time playing outside than other urban children.

Before conducting their study, assistant professor of sociology at Rice University Rachel Kimbro, and her colleagues expected that poorer children would play outside less. However, they found that 5-year-old kids living in public housing spent 13 percent more time playing outside compared to other urban 5-year-olds. The researchers also found that kids who lived in places with lots of graffiti, trash, and abandoned homes spent more time per day playing outdoors.

What's more, the study showed that the ratio of time spent playing outdoors to time spent watching television is a predictor a child's body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on heigh and weight. The study's results showed that for every extra hour spent playing outdoors compared to time spent watching television, children's BMI score was one percent lower.

Poor children face a higher risk of obesity than their well-off peers. One way to help curb the growing obesity epidemic, says Professor Kimbro, is to provide poor, urban children with safe and open environments in which to play. Children living in public housing may be playing outside more often because they have access to community courtyards and playgrounds.

A mother's impression of the physical and social environment of her neighborhood was also a factor that influenced how often a child played outdoors. If mothers thought their neighbors would look out for their children's well-being and safety, children were more likely to spend more time playing outside, to watch less television, and to visit the park or playground more often each week.

According to Professor Kimbro, these findings about mothers' perceptions suggest that community-based programs that encourage trust and neighborhood social networks could help to get more kids playing outdoors, and thus help combat childhood obesity.

According to a CDC study, approximately 12.4 percent of children between the aged 2 to 5 years and 17 percent of children aged 6 to 11 years are overweight or obese. Obesity at a young age increases a child's risk of being obese as an adult.

Obesity has definitively been linked to health complications including stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, all of which burden America with billions of dollars in avoidable health care costs. Also, obesity negatively impacts America's ability to compete in the global market by costing billions of dollars in lost productivity each year.

The study by Professor Kimbro and colleagues - which was funded by Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - will appear in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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Review Date: 
February 18, 2011
Last Updated:
February 22, 2011