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School Playgrounds and Athletic Facilities Helps To Fight Childhood Obesity

a mathematical formula representing weight relative to height that can be used to determine whether a person is overweight or underweight.

The study found differences in BMI and physical activity by the girls' race and socioeconomic status, consistent with the findings of previous studies. Hispanic and African-American girls had 7.2 percent and 7.8 percent higher BMIs respectively than whites, and non-white girls recorded less physical activity than their white counterparts. “Studies consistently find that people of different races have different BMIs, but the policy implications of that are often unclear,” Scott said. “This study identifies locked schools as great points of policy intervention where gains in the fight against obesity could potentially be made.”

More research is needed, Scott said, noting that the study did not measure whether the girls in the study actually used the school facilities for exercise. The fact that girls with higher BMIs tended to live in areas with locked schools also could signal that the girls live in a more stressful, high-crime area or a neighborhood with less access to stores that sell healthy food.

Researchers measured the girls' physical activity with accelerometers – devices that measure intensity of movement. Since middle school girls aren't old enough to drive, the RAND study looked at locations within a half-mile of the girls' homes — a distance they might be expected to walk or ride their bikes. Researchers also examined data on the girls' weekend activity levels.

Three-fourths of the schools in the study were public schools, and playground and athletic facilities there were locked about as frequently as private schools.

Public schools had the highest average number of active amenities and a significantly higher proportion of baseball fields, paved playing surfaces, basketball and handball courts and high-level gymnastics equipment.

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