image of the Eastern Trail web page mastheadSidewalks, Parks Could Boost U.S. Exercise Rates

Maggie Warren posts the following information (12/18/2001): 

Sidewalks, Parks Could Boost U.S. Exercise Rates

By Suzanne Rostler (December 6, 2001)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Communities that build walking and bicycle trails, initiate walking programs in malls, and fund public areas such as parks and sidewalks can boost activity levels in the US, study findings suggest.

These and other initiatives could help millions of sedentary people--including many low-income Americans--to get moving, researchers say.

Indeed, more than half of US adults are overweight and nearly one-quarter are obese. Low-income individuals are more than three times more likely than those with more money to lead sedentary lifestyles, according to the report in the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health, journal of the American Public Health Association (news - web sites).

The study results indicate that "parks and sidewalks matter, and could affect obesity rates,'' Dr. Ross C. Brownson from Saint Louis University in Missouri, told Reuters Health. ''We have an epidemic of obesity so we can't wait for every study to be completed before taking action.''

The telephone survey included 1,800 US adults, of which roughly 40% had annual incomes below $20,000. Men and white individuals were underrepresented in the study. Among all respondents, the exercise barriers most frequently cited included lack of time, fatigue, getting enough exercise at work and lack of motivation.

But the majority of respondents supported initiatives to overcome these obstacles, the researchers report. For instance, more than 70% said ``employers should provide time during the workday for employees to exercise,'' and many respondents said the government should provide safe areas in which citizens could exercise. Nearly all respondents--about 95%--supported physical education requirements in school.

Men reported greater access to places where they could exercise and to exercise equipment. Brownson explained that women may have other responsibilities such as childcare that may limit their access to these places. Men, he suggested, may be more likely to work outside the home where they have greater opportunity to exercise.

Among women, those with higher incomes reported greater access to walking or jogging trails, parks and treadmills. Lower-income men, however, reported greater access to these facilities than men with higher income levels did.

"Again,'' Brownson said, ``work patterns may help to explain this. Higher-income women might have parks near their homes while lower income men may have parks near their workplaces.'' He added that both higher-income men and women reported greater access to indoor exercise facilities such as treadmills.

Among those who got at least some physical activity, about two-thirds said they exercised on neighborhood streets, 37% said they exercised in malls, about 30% said they used parks and 25% cited outdoor trails. About 21% said they exercised at an indoor gym, the report indicates.

Individuals with lower incomes noted neighborhood obstacles to exercise, including heavy traffic, air pollution from cars and factories, and unattended dogs. And rates of exercise were found to be twice as high among individuals who believed that their neighborhoods were safe.

The study also revealed that social support, such as family members who encourage exercise or having a friend to exercise with, was associated with higher levels of activity.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health 2001;91:1995-2003. 

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