Objective: The obesity epidemic disproportionately affects minority and poor children. Negative perceptions of neighborhood safety in poor communities may affect overweight by inhibiting children's physical activity. This study investigates the degree to which parents in a poor inner city vs. a middle-class suburban community limit their children's outdoor activity because of neighborhood safety concerns.
Method: Parents of children aged 5-10 years from an inner city family practice in a poor community and from a suburban pediatric practice in a middle-class community completed a 20-item questionnaire. Parents estimated the amount of their child's activity in various situations and indicated their level of anxiety concerning gangs, child aggression, crime, traffic, and personal safety in their neighborhood.
Results: Inner city children (n = 204) engaged in less physical activity than suburban children (N = 103) (P < 0.001). Inner city parents expressed much greater anxiety about neighborhood safety than suburban parents (P < 0.0001). In the inner city population, children's physical activity levels were negatively correlated with parental anxiety about neighborhood safety (r = -0.18, P < 0.05).
Conclusions: Inner city parents have high levels of anxiety about neighborhood safety. While these concerns may not entirely explain the discrepancy in activity levels between inner city and suburban children, a safe environment is crucial to increasing opportunities for physical activity.