Research: Physical Activity, Obesity and Health

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that obesity has doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents over the past 30 years, and more than one-third of children or adolescents in 2012 were overweight or obese (Ogden et al., 2014). These children are at an increased risk for developing health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and hypertension as adults.

According to the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Survey, only one-quarter of youth ages 12-15 engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day, as recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (Fakhouri et al., 2014). Among children, regular physical activity has been strongly associated with improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness and metabolic health, better bone health, and weight maintenance and energy balance, with greater benefits for participating in physical activity more often, longer, or at higher intensity (US DHHS, 2008).

Activity levels for many children have declined, due in part to a built environment that is unsafe for walking and bicycling, reduced physical education in school, and increased popularity of sedentary leisure-time activities. Safe Routes to School can create environmental, policy, and behavioral changes that increase physical activity and promote the health of both children and adults.  Articles summarized in this section address the overall health benefits of physical activity, specifically walking to and from school, as well as the impact that increased physical activity opportunities have on current obesity and health trends in the US.

Research Highlights:

  • Research demonstrates that children who walk or bicycle to school have higher daily levels of physical activity, lower body mass index and waist circumference, and better cardiovascular fitness than do children who do not actively commute to school (Mendoza et al., 2011; Davison, et al., 2008).
  • Two small lifestyle changes – a small increase in physical activity (walking an additional 2000 steps/day) and a small change in diet (eliminating 100 kcal/day) – help address childhood obesity by preventing excess weight gain (Hill, et al., 2007).
  • One study suggests that a 5% increase in neighborhood walkability is associated with 32.1% more minutes devoted to physically active travel and about one-quarter point lower BMI (0.228) (Frank, et al., 2006).
  • Children who walk to school get three times as much moderate to vigorous physical activity during their walk to school than during recess (Cooper et al., 2010).
  • Implementation of Safe Routes to School initiatives like Walking School Buses have demonstratedimproved rates of walking to school, increased daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and decreased overweight and obesity (Quarles, 2012; Mendoza et al., 2011).
  • Living in a walkable community has been associated with reduced prevalence of adolescent overweight and obesity (Slater et al., 2013)
  • Our fact sheet provides more research linking Safe Routes to School to increases in physical activity.
Research

This study shows that among women, the prevalence of self-reported walking significantly increased from 2005 to 2015; meanwhile, among men, the overall prevalence increased but stalled between 2010 and 2015. 

Research

 A public health law analysis was conducted to review 20 shared used agreements implemented in Los Angeles County during 2010-2014.

Research

Key takeaway:

  • In this study, interactions with parents and peers and availability of sedentary media activities, after-school programs, and community centers influenced frequency and intensity of physical activity.
Resource icon
Research

Key takeaway:

  • This study documents the implementation of Active & Safe Routes to School (ASRTS) in an indigenous community in Canada.
resource icon
Research

Key takeaway:

  • This study found significant relationships between neighborhood environmental factors and physical activity among girls ages 10-14 across ethnic groups.
resource icon
Research

Key takeaway:

  • This study found that in rural areas, schools are the most common settings for policy and environmental interventions for physical activity.
Research

Key takeaway:

  • Children were more likely to live in communities with shared use addressed in long-range plans than in communities with formal shared-use agreements, and there were disparities by income and rural/urban locale for presence of either informal or formal shared use agreements. 
article icon
Research

Key takeaway:

  • Almost half of children live in communities with policies for land use development incentives to promote active living, but there are disparities in these policies by rural/urban locale.
Research

Key takeaway:

  • Few children live in areas with policies promoting active transportation to school, with community income level and geography (rural vs. suburban/urban) influencing the likelihood of being covered by certain policies. 
Research

This study provides helpful strategies and evaluation measures for enhancing Safe Routes to School programming and participation. 

Pages