Hike & Bike Trails Improve Neighborhood Fitness

Children get more exercise in neighborhoods with wide sidewalks

(RxWiki News) Children from low-income households are at a higher risk for obesity, but one way communities can reduce this risk is to add high-quality trails to low-income neighborhoods.

A study looking at the differences in levels of physical activity among kids in two different low-income neighborhoods found that the shape, length, width and overall planning of the sidewalk features makes a difference.

"Hike & bike trails makes it easier to exercise regularly."

The study was led by Gregory Heath, D.H.Sc., M.P.H., an assistant provost for research and engagement at the University of Tennesee at Chattanooga and a professor of health and human performance and medicine at the school's College of Medicine.

Two low-income neighborhoods in Chattanooga, Tenn. were compared by Heath and his colleagues for the study.

While one neighborhood had traditional features, including homes, public housing, a new school, a park and a standard sidewalk, the other neighborhood had a special extra-wide sidewalk that weaved through the neighborhood places.

The two-mile hike-and-bike-style trail led from the public housing and single-family homes to a school, library, park, shops and a recreational facility.

The researchers found that the kids in the area with the extra-wide sidewalk participated in more physical activity than the kids in the standard neighborhood by a factor of threefold.

"There was more vigorous activity in the park and along the trail," Heath said. "There was more jogging or bike riding, which makes sense because the urban trail was made for that."

Past studies comparing neighborhood features like these have tended to involve on middle- or upper-income areas rather than lower-income regions.

But children and adults in low-income households are at a higher risk for obesity and health problems such as cardiovascular conditions. They are also the demographic that uses public medical assistance most heavily, so poorer health outcomes among lower-income people costs the U.S. millions of dollars each year.

"Infrastructural changes like these are expensive," said Heath. "But quite frankly in the long run, they're worth it."

The study was presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions. Information regarding funding and conflicts of interest were unavailable.

Review Date: 
March 16, 2012