Childhood Obesity Linked to Lack of Garden Access

Young children playing outside
Young children playing outside
Young children without garden access more likely to be obese.

Children who lack garden access from ages 3 to 5 years are more likely to develop obesity by age 7, according to a study of 6,467 children, which was presented at EASD 2015, the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

“Environmental factors do have an association with children being overweight or obese. However, these associations are complex and might not be as distinct as previously assumed,” said study investigator Annemarie Schalkwijk, who is with VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam.

Previous studies have suggested that being overweight or obese as a child is associated with environmental, parental and socioeconomic status (SES) characteristics.

To learn more, Schalkwijk and colleagues assessed the association of environmental characteristics during ages 3 to 5 on being overweight or obese at age 7. The researchers also assessed if parental behaviors and SES affected this association.

The analysis used the Millennium Cohort Study, which is a nationally representative study of approximately 19,000 children born in the United Kingdom from 2000 to 2001. Surveys of these children were carried out at age 9 months, 3 years, 5 years and 7 years.

The researchers used computer modeling to calculate any associations between becoming overweight or obese and certain factors, such as the amount of green space in a neighborhood, having access to a garden and the condition of the neighborhood.

Adjustments were also made for parental and SES factors including food consumption, physical activity, rules, regularity, education, housing tenure and poverty.

After adjusting for parental influences and SES, the researchers found that no garden access during ages 3 to 5 years for households with lower education levels increased a child’s odds of being overweight or obese by age 7 by 38%.

Additionally, there was a 38% increased risk for overweight/obesity at age 7 for children of households with higher education living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

The researchers also found that the combination of a more disadvantaged neighborhood and higher education increased the risk for childhood overweight or obesity.

“We were surprised that parenting factors did not moderate or mediate the association between environment and getting obese at the age of 7,” Schalkwijk told Endocrinology Advisor

“It is important for clinicians during treatment of obese children to inform about the green environment in which one lives, like is there a green space, such as a garden, and is it also used? Next, clinicians could encourage the use of the green environment around the house in the treatment of obese children as a way to be physically active.”

She said it is important for patients, particularly parents of overweight or obese children with lower education levels, to know that parks and gardens offer inexpensive opportunities to let a child play or be physically active.

Schalkwijk said even though this study was conducted in England, other countries may have the same problem.

“Since the current data are analyzed at one moment in time, it would be interesting to analyze whether the same associations exist when you evaluate the data longitudinally. For example, does a change in environment change the chances of a child to become overweight or obese? Adding to the environmental variables, it would be interesting to analyze the influence of shops where one can buy fast food, like snack bars, supermarkets and take-away foods in the association of being overweight,” said Schalkwijk.


  1. Schalkwijk A et al. Oral Presentation 187: Is access to the outdoors associated with childhood overweight and obesity? Presented at: EASD 2015; Sept. 14-18, 2015; Stockholm.