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Location Plays Key Role in Daily Physical Activity Levels

by Craig Odar | Aug 01, 2011
Presence of fast food, recreational opportunities examined

INDIANAPOLIS– An old cliché says you are what you eat – and new studies presented today at the 55th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine suggests you are where you live, too.

Presented research focused on the positive correlations between fast-food restaurants and obesity rates in older adults, and between exercise-friendly environments and physical activity levels in adolescent girls.

Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., and his colleagues found that older adults who live in neighborhoods with a high-density of fast-food outlets were more likely to be obese compared to those in neighborhoods with fewer fast-food outlets, and that making frequent visits to these businesses was associated with a higher likelihood of being obese. The study also reported that non-Hispanic black residents and low-income residents were more likely to be obese in relation to fast-food outlet density, as were those who do not meet physical activity recommendations.

“Findings from this study suggest the negative impact of densely distributed fast-food outlets,” Li said. “Although eating habits are considered a matter of personal choice, an increasingly “obesogenic” food environment may influence those choices. Therefore, simply focusing on encouraging people to change their lifestyles, including healthy eating practices and increasing physical activity, is insufficient. Measures are also need to improve the food environment to support people in making such changes.”

ACSM recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for healthy adults. Overweight or obese individuals, or those who are striving to maintain weight loss, may need to exercise as many as 60 to 90 minutes per day.

These physical activity recommendations are more likely to be met if individuals live in an environment that is conducive to exercise, referred to as a “built” environment, as evidenced in a study led by Dianne Ward, Ed.D., FACSM.

Ward and her study team examined physical activity patterns in more than 1,200 high school-age girls, divided into groups based on whether or not the girls’ high schools were near activity-friendly areas. Girls at high schools in rural areas without many nearby opportunities for physical activity were less likely to accumulate vigorous physical activity than others.

“In addition to the differences we saw between schools with and without nearby physical opportunities, there were also disparities among racial, education and income groups,” Ward said. “More studies need to be done on the differences in physical activity amounts among these demographics, and what can be done to encourage them to get enough exercise.”

ACSM has previously published studies showing young girls exhibit much lower levels of physical activity and fitness than boys, and that these differences tend to increase during adolescence.

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The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world.  More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.

The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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