A new study published in the journal Obesity has found that the built environment is the strongest predictor of adolescent obesity. The built environment, which refers to the physical surroundings where people live, work, and play, significantly impacted adolescent obesity rates. Specifically, they found that neighborhoods with more parks and recreational facilities had lower rates of obesity among teenagers. In contrast, areas with more fast-food outlets and convenience stores had higher rates of obesity.
The study also found that the built environment had a stronger impact on obesity rates than individual factors such as diet and physical activity. These findings suggest that efforts to combat adolescent obesity should encourage healthy behaviors among individuals and create environments that support healthy choices.
The researchers used data from the 2013-2014 Military Teenagers Environments, Exercise, and Nutrition Study (M-TEENS), which included information on adolescents’ BMI, diet, and activity behaviors and the built environment of over 1,200 teenagers 12 to 14. They used this data to calculate the prevalence of obesity among teenagers in different neighborhoods and identify the factors most strongly associated with obesity.
The study found that the prevalence of obesity among teenagers varied widely depending on the built environment of their neighborhood. For example, teenagers living in communities with the most parks and recreational facilities had a 22% lower risk of obesity than those with the fewest parks and recreational facilities. Similarly, teenagers living in areas with the most fast-food outlets and convenience stores had a 23% higher risk of obesity than those with the fewest fast-food outlets and convenience stores.
The limited research suggests that policymakers should focus on creating environments that support healthy behaviors, such as building more parks and recreational facilities, promoting healthy food options in schools and neighborhoods, and limiting the availability of unhealthy foods. They also suggest that further research is needed to understand the complex interactions between individual factors and the built environment in shaping adolescent obesity rates.