Obesity Driven by High-Traffic Areas

Obesity is attributed to many factors, from genetics to lifestyle choices. But, the street where you grow up could also affect your waistline later in life.

New research indicates that children who live in high traffic areas may be at greater risk of gaining weight.  A team of researchers led by Dr. Michael Jerrett at the University of California-Berkeley studied nearly 3,000 children between 9 and 10 years old living in and around Los Angeles until they reached age 18. The results showed a significant increase in weight gain for girls and boys who lived within 150 meters of traffic.

What could cause the disparity? Researchers speculate that children living in traffic-clogged areas may not be able to walk, bike, or play outside regularly, because nearby traffic makes them feel that being outside is risky. When it’s not safe to play outside, kids are more likely to stay indoors and play video games or watch TV, which limits their physical activity. These sedentary habits can put children at greater risk for obesity.

Another possible reason for the association between high traffic areas and weight gain in children may be attributed to air pollution. The impact of air pollution on asthma symptoms and lung function could further limit a child’s ability to be physically active, which ultimately leads to weight gain.

Researchers suggest that new approaches by city planners could reduce the risk of traffic-related weight gain. They insist that actions can and should be taken to increase the “walkability” of neighborhoods, which could provide some protection against obesity.

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