Original Article | Published:

Epidemiology and Population Health

Greener neighbourhoods, slimmer children? Evidence from 4423 participants aged 6 to 13 years in the Longitudinal Study of Australian children

International Journal of Obesity volume 39, pages 12241229 (2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

Objectives:

There is a growing belief that green space (for example, parks) help prevent obesity. There is evidence of an inverse association between green space and childhood body mass index (BMI); however, the majority of these studies are cross-sectional. Longitudinal studies that track change in BMI across childhood in relation to levels of green space proximity would improve the quality of evidence available for decision making.

Methods:

Objectively measured BMI was obtained every 2 years between 2006 and 2012 for 4423 participants initially aged 6–7 years in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). The LSAC is a nationally representative study on a range of health and socio-demographic measures. Using Australian Bureau of Statistics mesh block data, which classify small scale land areas based on the main usage, each participant was assigned an objective measure of green space availability within their Statistical Area (level 2) of residence. Gender-stratified multilevel linear regression was used to estimate BMI growth curves across childhood in relation to green space availability. Family income, Australian Indigenous status, mothers’ education and language spoken were used to adjust for socio-economic confounding.

Results:

Age was found to be an effect modifier of associations between green space and BMI for boys (P=0.005) and girls (P=0.048). As children grew older, an inverse patterning of BMI by green space availability emerged. These findings held after adjustment for socio-economic circumstances for boys (P=0.009), though were less robust for girls after this adjustment (P=0.056).

Conclusion:

A beneficial effect of green space on BMI emerges as children grow older. However, there was little additional benefit after a modest amount of green space was met. Further research is needed to understand whether the drivers of this effect are from age-specific mechanisms, or whether the benefit of living in a greener neighbourhood is accumulated through childhood.

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Acknowledgements

This paper uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The study is conducted in partnership between the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to DSS, AIFS or the ABS. We also acknowledge the ABS for use of the 2006 mesh block data. TS is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award. TAB is supported by a Fellowship with the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. School of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, NSW, Australia

    • T Sanders
    • , X Feng
    • , P P Fahey
    •  & T Astell-Burt
  2. School of Health and Society, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia

    • X Feng
  3. Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

    • X Feng
  4. Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

    • X Feng
  5. Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, Australian Catholic University, Strathfield, NSW, Australia

    • C Lonsdale
  6. School of Geography and Geosciences, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK

    • T Astell-Burt

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Competing interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to T Astell-Burt.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2015.69

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