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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

South Carolina: Researchers Study Associations Between Walkability and Youth Obesity in Urban Versus Rural Environments

Ms. Ellen Stowe, a doctoral student in the Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior in the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, has partnered with colleagues at the Arnold School’s Built Environment and Community Health (BEECH) Laboratory to examine the relationship between walkability and youth obesity – looking at differences by urbanicity.  They published their findings in Childhood Obesity.

Previous research has already linked attributes of the built environment (e.g., neighborhood walkability) to increased physical activity and lower risk of obesity. However, most of these studies have focused on adults and few have examined neighborhood walkability and youth obesity.

With this study, the researchers examined data collected from more than 13,000 youth, ages 7-14 years in a Southeastern county school district. The information included height, weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), and youth demographic characteristics. They also calculated walk scores for each participant’s home address.

The authors found that as the walk score increased, the youth BMI score decreased. Walk score was positively associated with BMI score among urban youth and negatively associated with BMI score among rural youth. They found no relationship between walk score and youth in urban-rural mixed areas.

Overall, Ms. Stowe and her team concluded that neighborhood walkability may impact youth differently across geographic areas. They recommend that further study examine how youth utilize a walkable environment and mechanisms through which walkability influences youth and physical activity and obesity risk.

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