TEEN HEALTH Published September16, 2014 By Staff Writer

Access To Natural Trails Can Help Decrease Youth Obesity: Study

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Obesity rates are growing annually in America, especially among the youth. Factors contributing to these climbing rates range from processed foods to an inactive lifestyle.

Obesity is now regarded as a national health issue. As policy makers and health professionals continually and persistently look for solutions, a group of researchers from the University of Missouri and the University of Minnesota have discovered that local governments can significantly help in decreasing obesity levels among the youth by adding more recreational facilities and public lands dedicated to encourage physical activity.

According to researcher Sonja Wilhelm Stanis, counties with more nature trails that are not motorized, as well as forest lands, register higher levels of activity among the youth and lower obesity rates among the said group. Wilhelm Stanis is an associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Wilhelm Stanis said that counties with more nature preserves led to decreased physical activity rates among the youth. Meanwhile, park lands did not show any relationship with obesity levels and youth physical activity. "Overall, this research shows how local policy makers can impact the health of their youth through land-use decisions," she added.

Wilhelm Stanis and her fellow researchers Andrew Oftedal and Ingrid Schneider from the University of Minnesota examined every county in the state of Minnesota. They compared youth activity rates and youth obesity rates to amount of public non-motorized nature trails, motorized nature trails, park lands, forest land, and nature preserves.

According to Wilhelm Stanis, it is no surprise that nature preserves are associated with lower levels of physical activity. Visitors of preserves often spend their time appreciating nature and not doing something physically active like exercise. Meanwhile, non-motorized trails are used mainly for walking, running, or biking.

She encourages policy makers to consider whether their community outdoor resources encourage people to be active and healthy. 

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