Objective: The main objective of this study was to investigate whether children's perceptions of neighborhood safety are associated with their weight status and weight-related behaviors, independently of their parents' perceptions.
Methods: Data were from the baseline wave (collected in 2005-2008) of the Quebec Adipose and Lifestyle Investigation in Youth (QUALITY), an ongoing prospective study of 630 children aged 8-10 years (from Quebec, Canada) at risk of obesity. Weight and height were measured, and World Health Organization age- and sex-specific body mass index (BMI) z-scores were computed. Physical activity was measured by accelerometry, and time spent watching television, playing computer and video games during week and weekend days was self-reported. Structural equation modeling was used to simultaneously estimate the associations between parent and child perceived safety, with children's BMI z-score, physical activity and screen time.
Results: The results suggest that, when parent perceived safety was at the mean, children who perceived their neighborhood as being safest had nearly an additional 70 daily activity counts per minute (representing an ~10% increase in overall physical activity level) compared with children who perceived it as being least safe. Among children who perceived a mean level of safety, those whose parents perceived their neighborhood as being safest spent approximately an hour less per day in front of screens compared with those whose parents perceived their neighborhood as being least safe. Parent and child perceptions of safety both indirectly contribute to children's weight status by differentially impacting weight-related behaviors.
Conclusion: Findings indicate that targeting both parent and child perceived neighborhood safety could bolster efforts to promote healthy weight and weight-related behaviors among children.