Poor Kids Get More Outdoor Exercise Than Rich Kids

Almost two years ago, I told you about a study in which researchers polled inner-city families about the perceived opportunities & barriers to physical activity in the great outdoors.

That study revealed three themes that influenced youngsters’ opportunities for physical activity, with positive and negative factors for each.

The first theme identified was “neighbourhood characteristics.”

  • Positive neighborhood characteristics include “walkable” neighborhoods with plenty of parks and playgrounds and nearby amenities.
  • Negative neighborhood characteristics include perceived “stranger danger” fears related to drug users, bullies, prostitutes, gang members and fear of abduction deterred children and youth from visiting these places.

The second theme was “family involvement.”

  • Researchers found that while children and youth were rarely allowed out alone, involvement by a family member, for example, accompanying them to a park to play, increased their engagement in physical activity.

The third theme was the “availability of adult-supervised programs.”

  • On the positive side, we have neighborhoods with a large variety of programs offered by dedicated, hard-working staff and volunteers.
  • Conversely, neighborhoods with minimal resources; poor staff and volunteer recruitment and retention, and little public knowledge of program availability suffered badly. Even when kids did sign up for available programs, there was a high dropout rate.

At that time, common sense told me that poor inner-city neighborhoods were less likely to be walkable and free from stranger-danger.

And since low income parents were more likely to work multiple jobs, they would never be able to find the time to play with their kids.

And forget about neighborhood programs, with the economy in the toilet, the first thing to go in government budgets are programs for the poor.

Those poor little fat kids were doomed to a life of junk food and basic cable.

busyness = happiness

So, how is it possible that in 2011, kids living in inner-city public housing actually spend more time playing outdoors than other city kids?

  • This new study found that 5-year-olds living in public housing played outside 13 percent more per day, on average, than did other urban 5-year-olds.
  • Even more surpisingly, children living in bad neighborhoods — areas with visible graffiti, trash, and abandoned homes — also played outside more per day.

This doesn’t make any sense.

These kids should be inside their crappy public housing apartments glued to the tv set and snacking on generic potato chips.

What kind of mother would let their kid run around outside in a bad neighborhood?

According to the study, mothers who:

  1. perceived that other neighborhood mothers & fathers would “intervene in certain situations (such as if a child were skipping school and hanging out on the street)” and…
  2. thought their neighborhoods were cohesive (neighbors willing to help their neighbors).

In fact, the researchers found that “children of mothers who perceived higher levels of collective efficacy in their neighborhoods played outside for longer periods each day, watched less television and visited the park or playground more often each week”.

“Maternal perceptions of neighborhood environments, both positive and negative, truly override objective measures, such as neighborhood poverty status, when considering children’s activities.

Given the importance of maternal perception, it becomes critical to create community-based programs that seek to facilitate trust and neighborhood social networks in these low-income, urban areas.”


I guess that proverb is right: “It does take a village to raise a child.”





  1. […] came across this post from Healthy Habits feeling a bit skeptical on them making such a large generalization, even with a survey. – […]

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