Children studying in schools closer to built environments are at higher risk of obesity

Children who attend schools with greater proximity to built environments and with less green spaces, have a higher risk of developing obesity, concluded a study by the Instituto de Saúde Pública da Universidade do Porto (ISPUP), published in the European Journal of Pediatrics.

The result is explained, on the one hand, by the fact that these children study in schools with outdoor spaces that do not favor the practice of physical activity. On the other hand, they are more exposed to pollutants resulting from car traffic, which may be associated with an increase in resistance to leptin that is related to the development of obesity.

“We know that environmental factors play an important role in individual behavior and, consequently, in weight regulation. Given that children spend a large part of their time on school grounds, we wanted to understand how the environment in which the school is located influences the child’s health, namely their weight”, says Inês Paciência, first author of the study, coordinated by the researchers André Moreira and Pedro Moreira.

845 children and 20 schools in the Municipality of Porto were evaluated

To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed the spaces that were located at a distance of 500 meters from the schools, considering the number of green areas and spaces built around them.

At the same time, they evaluated the body composition, weight and height of 845 children, who were attending the 3rd and 4th grades of primary education, from 20 schools in the Municipality of Porto.

The association between built-up areas and obesity risk

The study found that children who attend schools closer to built-up areas and with less green spaces, have a higher body mass index than those who study in schools closer to green spaces and with less built-up areas.

How is this association explained? “On the one hand, the built-up spaces and with less green areas offer less opportunities for students to practice physical activity in the outdoor spaces of schools. And we know that physical exercise is essential to prevent obesity and excess weight”, says the ISPUP researcher.

“On the other hand, more urbanized areas have higher levels of pollutants, namely, particulate matter, which can have an effect on children’s metabolism. These pollutants may be associated with an increase in resistance to leptin, which is related to an increased risk of obesity”, she adds.

Policies promoting green spaces around schools

Taking into account the results of the study, Inês Paciência considers it essential to define policies aimed at creating green spaces around schools.

“Green spaces are associated with healthier lifestyles, physical exercise, reduced stress and better health overall. Additionally, they increase opportunities for active commuting, so they can be used by children to walk or bike to school”, concludes the researcher.

The research is entitled A cross-sectional study of the impact of school neighborhood on children obesity and body composition and is available HERE. The researchers João Rufo, Francisca Mendes, Mariana Farraia, Pedro Cunha, Diana Silva, Luís Delgado and Patrícia Padrão also participated in the article.

Imagem: Unsplash/MChe Lee

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