Neighborhood Characteristics and Children’s Physical Activity

Research BriefHealthOct 1 2014

Regular exercise is important for both physical and mental well-being.i For adolescents, regular physical activity helps to build and maintain healthy muscles and bones, controls weight, and has positive psychological benefits.ii Exercise also improves long-term health, by decreasing the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension in adulthood.iii Moreover, young people who are active [inlinetweet prefix=”Young people who are active” tweeter=”” suffix=”@ChildTrends”]tend to remain active and physically fit as adults[/inlinetweet]. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a level of physical activity that increases heart rate and causes heavy breathing at least some of the time, for a total of 60 minutes a day, at least five days a week.iv

In this report, we examine the relationship between physical exercise and neighborhood characteristics among children and youth, using data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH).

We begin by examining, in each state, the average number of days children ages 6 to 17 exercised in the past week. We also look at the frequency within each state of selected neighborhood characteristics: whether the child’s neighborhood included a playground or recreation center, whether it had dilapidated housing, and whether parents felt their child was “usually” or “always” safe there. We then examine which of these characteristics were associated with a higher average number of days of exercise, when other factors affecting exercise frequency are taken into account.