In a national study, Penny Gordon-Larsen has found that individuals who live in economically advantaged neighborhoods, where the education level is high and the population predominantly non-Hispanic white, have greater access to both publicly funded and privately owned facilities and resources that promote physical activity.
"We really expected to find public facilities--schools, public swimming pools, tennis courts, parks, youth centers, and YMCAs and YWCAs--to be more equitably distributed. Instead, we found that they, too [like member-only athletic clubs and instructional classes] were more likely to be situated in more advantaged communities," said Gordon-Larsen, an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. At Cornell's June 2005 Ecology of Obesity conference, Gordon-Larsen gave a presentation on "Socioeconomic and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Obesity."
The consequence of such an environmental disparity is significant for weight control. In a related study, Gordon-Larsen found that having a single facility decreases the likelihood of individuals in the community being overweight and increases the likelihood that they will meet the federally recommended activity guidelines of engaging in five or more bouts of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week. Results of a study examining another modifiable environmental factor--physical education (PE) in schools--showed a similar result when the data were adjusted for age, sex, and urbanicity. Those children who had PE at least one day a week are 44 percent more likely to be highly active than those who have no PE at all. Those children who have PE five days a week are more than twice as likely to be highly physically active. And those who use recreation centers are 75 percent more likely to be highly active.
"These results underscore the importance of such programs and that we should be more aggressive in calling for PE in schools and the establishment of community recreation centers," Gordon-Larsen said.
She presented findings from a number of other studies that help to further identify populations at high risk for obesity, one being individuals living in rural communities. "There is a general idea that if you live in a rural environment, you would be more physically active, but that isn't necessarily true," Gordon-Larsen said.
Of the gender and racial/ethnic groups included in the study (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Asian), non-Hispanic black women are by far at greatest risk, according to Gordon-Larsen. …