Monday, June 22, 2009

Better zoning can lead to healthier children

Throughout the month of May as proposed zoning regulations were being reviewed and a public hearing on the plan was looming this column focused on several issues related to growth and planning. A few of those issues were the importance of requiring a higher percentage of passive open space in all residential subdivisions, limiting sprawl and encouraging mixed land use and higher residential density.

Now these same concepts have been taken up by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Citing statistics that show roughly 32 percent of American children are overweight, the AAP released a policy statement June 6 urging federal and local governments to take proactive action for the health of our nation’s children.

In its policy statement, the Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children – the APA states that government policies must support the effort to encourage physical activity through land use design. In its statement the AAP makes the following recommendations for federal and local governments:
• Pass and promote laws and regulations to create new, or expand existing efforts to promote active living.
• Federal programs can incentivize states to incorporate these principles into planning and zoning standards.
• State and local governments should examine planning and zoning efforts to ensure that children's ability to walk, play, and get to school safely are a top priority.
• Create and maintain playgrounds, parks, and green spaces within communities as well as the means to access them safely.

The AAP states emphatically that the physical environment of a community can support opportunities for play and physical activity. Of course the addition of neighborhood parks does not guarantee children will become more active, but there is research to support that providing the opportunity makes a big difference. In fact, the AAP references an experimental study that shows that as the percentage of park area within a child's neighborhood increases, so does the physical activity among children 4 to 7 years of age and non overweight children 8 to 12 years of age.

In addition, higher land-use mix and proximity of neighborhood shops to residences promotes walking and bicycling and providing areas for activity. As cities have expanded into rural areas, expansive land areas are often transformed into low-density developments and the result is urban sprawl, making walking to destinations difficult.

There are a host of issues that influence the level of activity for children as well as adults, but the AAP policy statement is clear that the physical design of the community is a factor that cannot be ignored. Statistics reveal that the percentage of overweight children in our country is growing at an alarming rate, with one out of three kids considered overweight or obese. While we can’t stop this national trend, through our local zoning regulations we can provide the children of Worcester County with more chances to run, walk, bike and play, leading to improved overall physical activity.

The mission AAP is to attain optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. To read the APA statement online go to

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can smarter commissioners lead to better zoning too?