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“Smart Growth” Neighborhoods and Kids’ Fitness

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Randall Cantrell, PhD,  Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

When you were growing up, did you love to run and play outside in the neighborhood with your friends? Maybe your parents just told you to come home when the streetlights came on. Though we may never go back to that relaxed attitude towards monitoring children, some developers are working to build developments that will entice more of today’s kids outside to play. These so-called “smart growth” neighborhoods include plenty of shared green space and, with sidewalks everywhere, are more walkable.

But do the children who live in these developments really walk and play outside more? A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine had about 150 children between the ages of 8 and 14 wear a special device that tracked their exercise and motion and kept track of where they went for several days. Some lived in a “smart growth” neighborhood, and some lived in typical car-dependent suburbs.

In fact, the results showed that children in the smart-growth community spent much more time being active around their neighborhoods than children in the regular suburbs. However, they were only a bit more active overall. Still, researchers believe that kids who live in smart growth communities like these could average as much as 10 more minutes of physical activity a day.

While this might not sound like much, most children today do not get the hour of daily exercise that experts recommend. Changing the way we design new neighborhoods, as well as working to make older neighborhoods more inviting for outdoor activities, can help children be more active and have more fun.

(Image credit: UF/IFAS file photo.)


 Jerrett, M., et al. (2013). Smart growth community design and physical activity in children. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 45(4), 386-392. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.05.010