San Diego Neighborhoods and Obesity Research

Zip code may be as important a factor in childhood obesity as genetic code, according to a new study comparing obesity rates in specific neighborhoods in San Diego, as well as in Seattle. Researchers from Seattle Children’s Research Institute looked at factors such as neighborhood walkability, quality of parks, and proximity to healthy food options and fast food chains. They found that where a child lives has a significant impact on their likelihood of being obese.  Children living in neighborhoods with favorable environmental attributes — neighborhoods with good walkability, proximity to higher quality parks, and access to healthy food—had 59 percent lower odds of being obese.  Only eight percent of children living in these neighborhoods were obese.  On the other hand, children living in neighborhoods scoring low in nutrition environment and physical activity had the highest rates of obesity, at almost 16 percent, similar to the national average. Childhood obesity rates have been increasing over the past decades, with more than 17 percent of school-aged children and teens obese today, triple that of thirty years ago. The study also found that fast food was easier to find in San Diego than Seattle, with 3,474 fast food locations in San Diego County, as compared to 1,660 in King County, Washington. San Diego averaged 2.0 fast food locations per block group, and King County had 1.1.

This research is one of the first neighborhood environment studies to look at a combination of nutrition and physical activity environments and to assess the weight of children and their parents. The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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