"We've got the most obese generation of children we've ever had,” says Brian Saelens of Seattle Children's Research Institute.
Researchers looked at San Diego and King counties and found that the percentages of childhood obesity vary greatly by neighborhoods.
"For kids who lived in favorable environments in their neighborhoods and nutrition, their rates of obesity were 8 percent, so about half as high as the kids who lived in these poorer physical and nutritional environments,” said Saelens.
By poorer environments, researchers mean these areas have fewer parks and more fast food outlets.
Even though recent studies show that childhood obesity rates nationally now seem to be holding steady at 16 percent, Dr. Saelens says that's not good enough.
"It's leveling off, it's not going down. We want to reverse that trend. In fact we need to reverse that trend,” he said.
Otherwise, he says, the health care costs will be overwhelming.
In a budget crisis time when governments are thinking about closing parks, rather than opening new ones, those decisions will have long-term consequences.
"The question is do you want to pay for it now or are you going to pay for it later?” said Dr. Saelens.
This is the first study to consider a lack of high-quality parks as a risk factor for childhood obesity.
Findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine
LINK: Active Living Research