Background: Neighborhood infrastructure may provide an important opportunity to prevent overweight among children. In the present study we investigated whether access to shops for modestly priced fresh produce, access to parks and playgrounds, access to recreational facilities and neighborhood safety are related to children's diet, physical and sedentary activities, and body weights.
Methods: Data were obtained from the Children's Lifestyle and School-performance Study, a survey including 5,471 grade five students and their parents in the province of Nova Scotia, Canada. Students completed the Harvard Food Frequency Questionnaire and had their height and weight measured. Parents completed questions on socio-economic background and how they perceived their neighborhood. We applied multilevel regression methods to relate these neighborhood characteristics with children's fruit and vegetable consumption, dietary fat intake, diet quality, frequency of engaging in sports with and without a coach, screen time, overweight and obesity.
Results: Children in neighborhoods with greater perceived access to shops had healthier diets and were less likely to be overweight or obese. Children in neighborhoods with good access to playgrounds, parks and recreational facilities were reportedly more active and were less likely to be overweight or obese, whereas children in safe neighborhoods engaged more in unsupervised sports.
Conclusions: The study demonstrated associations between neighborhood characteristics, health behaviors and childhood overweight. This contributes to the knowledge base that is still too narrow to justify informed preventative public health policy. We advocate the evaluation of natural experiments created by new policy that affect neighborhood infrastructures as the optimal opportunity to enlarge this knowledge base.