Does environment influence childhood BMI? A study of children aged 3–11

Obesity is simply caused by an imbalance in energy consumed and calories burned, however what causes this imbalance is complex and multifactorial. If enough calories are burned through physical activity, then an individual should not gain weight. Following this rationale, if an environment is more conducive to exercise then an individual is less likely to be overweight.  This argument is the basis of this paper, which explores the relationship between environment and children’s BMI.

The study included 6001 children in England, between the ages of 3 and 11. The environmental measures used looked at levels of green space, gardens, crime or multiple deprivation of a neighbourhood. Crime rates were derived from police force data, on four criminal offences; burglary, theft, criminal damage and violence. The study found that there was a moderate relationship between environment and a child’s BMI, however it is unlikely that this relationship was causal. The results instead suggest that environmental variables, such as amount of parks or recreational facilities, may be driven by selection. So those families that are less likely to have overweight children, are more likely to choose to live in greener areas. This research goes against many previous studies which suggests a strong causal link between exercise promoting environments and obesity. In light of this, future research and health policy should consider the assumption that these two are linked and that managing the environment will invariably lead to lower levels of obesity.


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