Children living in homes surrounded by traffic hazards are at risk of unhealthy weight gain, according to a study performed by the University of California, Berkeley. The study's findings suggest that city planners should use traffic calming methods to make it safe for children to play outside.

The study found that multi-lane roads, speeding cars and other hazards in the Los Angeles area made it unsafe for children to play outside and walk or bike to school, reducing their physical activity and, therefore, leading to weight gain. Michael Jerrett, an associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and his research team studied more than 3,000 children living in and around Los Angeles for about eight years until the participants reached age 18. The researchers measured each child's height and weight every year and used an advanced geographic information system to analyze traffic patterns.

Children who lived within a few blocks of heavy traffic gained more weight by age 18 than those who lived further from high-traffic areas. The researchers speculate that children living in such communities do not regularly walk or play outside because the traffic volume makes it too risky. 
"When it's not safe to play outside, kids are more likely to stay inside and play computer games or watch television," Jerrett said. "These sedentary habits can put them at greater risk for obesity."

Cities should implement several methods for slowing traffic to address the problem, including narrowing lanes, installing roundabouts and reducing speed limits, according to the study. The study will be discussed at the seventh Active Living Research (ALR) Conference in San Diego. San Diego-based ALR is a national program of the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). "Research like this can help policy-makers, local leaders and even residents craft solutions like safe sidewalks, local fitness programs and even socially cohesive neighborhoods that will make walking, biking and being healthy easier for kids," said Celeste Torio, program officer at RWJF.

Download more information on Jerret's study and related studies.

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