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New study: Inequality in recreational resources decreases physical activities, boosts weight gain

In general, minorities and people with lower incomes have much less access than wealthier people to recreational facilities, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill investigation concludes. The result is that they are less physically active and are more likely to be overweight.

That's not the only reason that people with less money in this country often are less active and too heavy, but it appears to be a key factor, the researchers said. The long-term consequences are poorer health and shorter lives.

In their study of some 20,000 U.S. teens, the researchers explored whether resources available for physical activity were distributed relatively equally across all segments of the population, said Dr. Penny Gordon-Larsen, assistant professor of nutrition, a department jointly housed within UNC's schools of public health and medicine. They especially wanted to learn whether minority and low-income groups in which obesity levels are high and exercise levels low had access to such resources to about the same degree as people in richer communities.

"We expected to find that private, fee facilities would be more common in more affluent areas, but the extent and magnitude of the lack of access in poorer communities was very surprising," Gordon-Larsen said. "Even the types of facilities we think of as most equitably allocated, like YMCAs, public parks and youth organizations, were significantly less common in poorer areas."

A report on the findings will appear in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics. Besides Gordon-Larsen, authors are Dr. Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition; recent UNC doctorate recipient Dr. Melissa C. Nelson; and Phil Page, director of the Spatial Analysis Unit of UNC's Carolina Population Center.

The team extended its research to examine the impact of facilities on behavior.

"We found that each facility in the adolescents' communities increased the likelihood that they would meet physica
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Contact: Deb Saine
deborah_saine@unc.edu
919-962-8415
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
6-Feb-2006


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