Children with no access to a garden at age three to five years are at an increased risk of developing obesity by the age seven, according to researchers.
The study of 6,467 children from England was presented today at this year’s annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Stockholm, Sweden.
“We showed that limits on access to outdoor space is associated with future childhood overweight/obesity although moderated by education level”
The analysis, led by Annemarie Schalkwijk from the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, used data from the Millennium Cohort Study – a nationally representative study of around 19,000 children born in the UK between 2000-01.
Surveys were carried out among the children at age nine months, three years, five years and seven years.
Computer modelling was used to calculate any associations between becoming overweight or obese and factors such as the amount of green space in the neighbourhood, having access to a garden and the condition of the neighbourhood.
Parental and socioeconomic factors – including food consumption, physical activity, rules, regularity, education, housing tenure and poverty – were evaluated to check the strength of the initial link.
The study authors found that no garden access for lower educated households increased the odds of being overweight or obese at seven years by 38%.
There was also a 38% increased risk of being overweight or obese at seven years for children of higher educated households living in disadvantaged neighourhoods.
The study authors said: “We showed that limits on access to outdoor space is associated with future childhood overweight/obesity although moderated by education level.
“More research is needed to see how we can deploy these findings in the prevention of type 2 diabetes,” they said.
“The government must do more to encourage our young people to get active to safeguard their future health”
The authors are now planning a further study on the influence of the environment on risk of weight gain and obesity. The current research is currently being prepared for submission to a journal.
Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that participation in physical activity at recommended levels, be that at home, school or in a local park, is essential to improving our children’s heart health and preventing future heart and circulatory diseases.
“Many children and young people in the UK are not achieving the recommended target of 60 minutes activity each day and nearly a third of all children in the UK are obese or overweight,” she said.
Ms Talbot added: “The government must do more to encourage our young people to get active to safeguard their future health.”