Better ‘city-wide urban planning’ key to tackling childhood obesity in Latin American cities

Lima, Peru. By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Better urban planning and public health policies are key to tackling rising childhood obesity rates in Latin American cities, says a new report.

These are the first steps towards countering what researchers from The SALURBAL Project say is the ‘rapid urbanization’ of cities, which may be a significant factor in rising childhood obesity rates,

Their report, published in the Americas edition of The Lancet medical journal, studied urbanisation through different pathways involving urban built and social features of cities.

They studied data from just over 20,000 children aged 1-5 years in 159 big cities in six countries – Chile Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru. This took in social factors like living conditions, local services and educational levels, along with issues around the ‘built environment’, such as isolation, population density, greenness and traffic/transit levels.

‘Social and built environmental factors’

What they found was the overall prevalence of excess weight among preschool children was eight per cent,but this varied substantially between and within countries, ranging from four to 25 per cent.

The SALURBAL Project is part of the Urban Health Network for Latin America and the Caribbean, and uses urban statistics and data to highlight how cities can affect health. Higher ‘sub-city’ education, the team found, is also associated with lower odds of excess weight, but better sub-city living conditions were associated with higher odds of excess weight.

“Built and social environment features are related to excess weight in preschool children,” they add. “Our evidence from a wide range of large Latin American cities suggests that urban health interventions may be suitable alternatives towards attaining the goal of reducing excess weight early in the life course.”

The authors, whose study was funded by the Wellcome Trust charity, were Jessica Hanae Zafra-Tanaka, Ariela Braverman, Cecilia Anza-Ramirez, Ana Ortigoza, Mariana Lazo, Tamara Doberti, Lorena Rodriguez-Osiac, Gina S Lovasi, Mónica Mazariegos, Olga Sarmiento, Carolina Pérez Ferrer and J. Jaime Miranda.

‘City-wide interventions’

“These findings are helpful to capture the potential role different constructs of the urban environment may have in preventing or countering childhood obesity.

“Therefore, city-wide interventions oriented to prevent or revert excess weight in children may be useful to counter the burden of obesity, with practical implications for urban planning and public health prevention efforts,” add the authors.

Click here for the full study in The Lancet.

Author: Simon Weedy

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