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Living in a flat might make your child obese

With almost one third (30 percent) of all U.K. kids being classified as overweight or obese, the question of how to combat the most serious global public health challenge of this century is at the forefront of our minds. Now new research has shed more light on the issue and it’s not good news for families who don’t have a garden.

The study, which was carried out by academics from the Netherlands, found that not having a garden was a major risk factor in gaining weight, even when other variables such as physical activity, education and poverty were taken into account.

According to the study, 3 to 5 year-olds with no garden access were far more likely to be overweight or obese by the time they reached their seventh birthday than their counterparts who had backyards.

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“We showed that limits on access to outdoor space is associated with future childhood overweight/obesity (sic),” said lead author of the study, Annemarie Schalkwijk, of VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, adding that more research needed to be conducted to determine how these findings could be used to stymie the trend.

Adding insult to injury, a separate study conducted in China found that playing outside reduced a school-aged child’s chances of becoming short-sighted by 23 percent. As many as 90 percent of Chinese high school graduates are currently short-sighted and it’s a trend that’s also on the rise (though at a slower pace) in Europe. In other words we might have a generation of overweight, visually impaired kids if something doesn’t change.

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By all accounts things are not looking great for families who live in flats. Considering that the U.K. has some of the smallest properties in Europe, and that 44 percent of those renting live in flats, this affects a lot of people. Switching a flat for a place that has a garden just isn’t a reasonable or realistic option for most families living in high-density accommodation. So what’s a parent to do?

“We know that participation in physical activity at recommended levels, be that at home, school or in a local park, is essential to improving our children’s heart health and preventing future heart and circulatory diseases,” said Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation.

The recommended level is 60 minutes of activity each day and according to Talbot many children are not hitting this target. So it seems the best available solution is to get involved and motivate kids to spend more time outdoors.

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