"This is a compelling reminder that parents really don't need to think of staying fit as a huge and scheduled time sink," said Dr. Chandra Bhat. "You can, in simple, flexible ways, change a child's lifestyle to incorporate physical activity."
The professor and a graduate student will describe the study results on Monday, Jan. 23, at the 85th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington D.C. The talk is based on an analysis Bhat and graduate student Rachel Copperman performed on a 2001 survey about travel choices made by 15,000 households in the San Francisco Bay area.
Recent studies have found that children are exercising less, and becoming more obese. About one in eight American children bike or walk to school, for instance, as compared to one in two children 30 years ago. The percentage of children who are overweight has more than doubled in the same time frame.
The survey Bhat used was based on weekend activities in nine Bay area counties. One of his goals was to determine whether the physical structures that favor exercise in neighborhoods influence the physical activity levels of children between five and 17 years of age.
"The built environment, how we design our cities and neighborhoods, seemed to help," said Bhat, who holds the Fluor Centennial Teaching Fellowship in Engineering No. 1. "But our ability to influence physical activity through the built environment is rather limited.
"Overall, it seems the demographic and social issues, and possibly attitudes toward exercise, impact physical activity participation in children more substantially."