The study concluded:
This analysis yields the first evidence of significant effects from traffic density on Body Mass Index levels at age 18 in a large cohort of children. Traffic is a pervasive exposure in most cities, and our results identify traffic as a major risk factor for the development of obesity in children.
American City and County Magazine reported the study’s findings suggested city planners should use traffic calming methods to make it safe for children to play outside.
The article quotes UC-Berkley lead researcher Michael Jarrett “When it’s not safe to play outside, kids are more likely to stay inside and play computer games and watch television”.
In September 2009 American City and County Magazine covered another study reporting Local Governments can help control childhood obesity. That study from the National Academy of Sciences Institute suggested:
Zoning restrictions on fast-food restaurants near schools and playgrounds, community policing to improve safety around public recreational sites, limiting video game and TV time at publicly run after-school programs, and taxing high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks are some of the strategies local governments can use to combat the problem, according to the report. Those actions could help create environments that make it easier for children to eat healthier diets and move more, said the committee of health experts that wrote the report.
The Free Enterprise Forum finds both studies place too much emphasis on the government and not nearly enough on individual choice and parental guidance.
The concepts suggested by the National Academies of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine banning fast food restaurants near schools and playground runs afoul of our concept of freedom.
While the built environment clearly will affect lifestyle, we believe the Jarrett study does not adequately address the other significant socioeconomic variables that have a higher impact than the traffic calming measures that may or may not be in place
It’s the Twinkie® not the traffic
Increased traffic calming measures and skinnier roads will not make skinnier children. Barring fast food close to schools just means Mom, Dad or Junior will just have to drive further to get their burger. In the end it is the individual (or parental) dietary choices and level of physical activity that have the greatest impact on childhood obesity.
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org