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HomeHealth & BehaviorHealth & Nutrition

Health and the hood

Page 2 of 2

By Carol Lloyd

Walk it out

“It’s important for parents to realize they only have a preschooler for a very short time,” Jackson says. “It may be fine to drive them around when they are 4 or 5, but when the kids get to be teenagers, it’s a different story. So parents need to think about the best environment for their children across different ages.”

Before families move to a new community, Jackson recommends checking out places on walkscore.com. Will they be able to assess the public transit system? Can children walk to school, a library, or a park? “Look into whether you’re going to have to pick up your 14-year-old son from soccer practice every night because the last bus leaves too early,” he says.

The civilizing power of green space

Research suggests that access to natural areas promotes children’s play and socialization, so looking for backyards and nearby parks isn’t frivolous. In one famous study of Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, the largest public housing development in the world, researcher Bill Sullivan looked at children playing at the “hardened” versus the “green end” of the projects and found that those with access to trees and grass socialized better than those playing on asphalt. (Even adults seemed to fare better: A far smaller percentage of parents who spent time in green space reported hitting their kids than those who did not.)

Your commute, their mental health

“The best place for kids is where they’ve got loving adults,” says Jackson. How might this be relevant to the neighborhood you choose? Consider the long-term costs of commuting on your children. “If Mom or Dad’s exhausted from a long commute and dinner is from the fast-food restaurant because no one has time to cook, then it takes away from time with the kids,” he explains. “A lot of family life is a rat race.”

Jackson knows this from experience. While working at the CDC in Atlanta (a city known for its sprawl), Jackson and his wife had three boys at three schools and two careers. “Every afternoon we had to decide which of our careers was less important when trying to figure out who would pick up the kids,” he says. His advice? Rethink the long commute. “In our zeal to give our kids so much, we’ve made [life] pretty lonely for a lot of them.”

In the end, it may make better financial sense to live without a car or commuter expenses, to the tune of $10,000 a year, but pay $150,000 on your mortgage. “It may be a foolish economy to buy cheaper farther away from work,” says Jackson.

is the executive editor of GreatSchools and mother to two raucous daughters, ages 9 and 13.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/17/2012:
"Comment regarding Health in the Hood suggestion about using walkability.com website. I'm enjoying reading this site and liked this article, but have to comment on Richard Jackson's suggestion that walkability.com is a reliable website. I disagree. Sure, the site looks pretty, but the scores are way off! The maps on the site randomly mark restaurants and stores that are often the furthest. At the same time the map/list ignores closer locations altogether. Plus, it marks home businesses as shopping locations. Lastly, they use block length as a major factor against a low score. The belief that a block length should bring down a score is not logical. So what if the street lengths are shorter, if the total length between the house and site is the same? I could go on, but will just end with a suggestion: use google maps instead. If you are going to make your decisions or be persuaded by a site, use one that is more reliable on the whole. While a score is not given - I imagine that you know how far you can walk. "
04/5/2010:
"Um...did you say 'skilled?'"
03/31/2010:
"yabba dabba doo i's lives in the hoods two, and the fact that the word hood is used in a school news letter causes me consternation. To the person who laughed instead of applauding that poor illiterate person. I say way to go buddy. You are adroit in your writing skills. NOT as skilled as i am however, nor will you ever be. In closing, all this who-ha can be avoided in the future by simply using good grammar. 'STAY AWAY FROM THE WORD HOOD. HE HATES THE WORD HOOD' Steve Martin "
03/30/2010:
"amen, amen, amen!!!!"
03/30/2010:
"To the person who is disappointed in those who find fault with the title. Please don't be. We are all adults, we can handle ourselves."
03/29/2010:
"There are many issues that have affected our health and the health of our children for many years. We are now seeing the results, just like we are seeing so many of our schools failing and our environments being polluted. We need to understand how it happened in order to change it. After WWII, many physicians abandoned their understanding of infant health by discouraging mothers from breastfeeding and promoting the use of (war surplus) infant formula, canned foods (Spam, Campbells Soup, etal), sugar and table salt. Physicians were a major part of that problem because mothers trusted them, and they claimed to be concerned about our health. The problem with doctors is that if you are healthy, you don't need them. They have no monetary incentive to keep you healthy. With the advent of television with tobacco advertisements on every channel, in every magazine, in every movie, plus McDonald's, Dairy Queen, Pepsi, Coca Cola and other major junk food companies populating practically every major city in the US ... and then linking all this junk food to young people's popular music icons ... well, it's very easy to see the affect on the minds of the impressionable. Blame Madison Avenue for promoting consumption of soda pop and junk foods as being 'all American. Schools were (still are) a huge part of the problem. How can schools teach biology and the fact that human beings are (also) mammals and then encourage children to drink COOKED milk every day from another mammal hundreds of pounds heavier than their own mothers? Couple that with the advent of daily soda pop ads, candy bars (cheaply and readily available), and you can see how easily it happened. Driving everywhere for the arts, sports, jobs, food causes huge problems not only with our air quality, but our sedentary lifestyles as well. In lower income, 'ghetto-ized' neighborhoods (remember the Jews during WWII and their hoods? -- the ghettos now have other minorities there and the Jews have moved on based on their economic advantages) you see neighborhood 'convenience' stores filled with all the junk foods, soda pop, plastic, packaging and cigarettes you need to slowly kill yourself. In Europe they have fresh food markets all over the place. Here we are in America, drowning in our own NYC ad-agency misleading 'packaging,' touting the benefits of 'foods' filled with synthetic vitamins, coal tar derivative poisons (artificial flavor and colors), etc. Furthermore, you have all the public (and private) schools for years pulling their kitchens and stocking the lunchrooms with every imaginable piece of junk you really don't want your kids to eat. The schools teach nutrition and a healthy lifestyle on one hand, and then they lie by offering junk to eat in their own cafeterias. Look at every teachers' lounge and you will find a pop machine there. School fundraising is another repeat of the same junk being sold to raise money for the schools to buy more books, etc. How is that good for our children to promote, through sales, the same junk they should avoid at all costs? Look at what we are really eating. Anyone can see that the commodities mostly eaten are bad for your health and well-being because they (have been for years) and continue to be too plentiful in our diets. The profit margin for these foods is ridiculous. Look at your parents and your own stock portfolios and ask yourself what is important for your investments. You, your relatives and friends are a huge part of the problem. We all know why synthetic vitamins, fat, salt and sugar are used: to improve the flavor and nutritional density of a deficient food that would not taste good without it because it was over-processed, picked too early, grown on poor soil, etc. In other words, it is deficient. Think Wonder Bread versus whole grain organically grown bread and it makes you wonder why we ever ate that crap in the first place. How did we get fooled? See the indie film, 'Food Inc.' Also read the book, 'The Hidden Persuaders' by Vance Packard, first published in 1957, which discusses the negative aspects of advertising in the post-war era. You will find their handiwork in every school, daycare, movie theater, indoor and outdoor stadium and every television channel on the air."
03/29/2010:
"very important article, I liked it, very helpful."
03/29/2010:
"I appreciate the this article, but what I don't appreciate when thoes in authority use slang when there is something our kids may read."
03/29/2010:
"Great, informative article. I see no problems with the title, but I am disappointed with those who do. We're all adults, we can handle ourselves. Great Schools has used slang before, and there was no problem then as there isn't now."
03/26/2010:
"This was an interesting article, and it had some valid points, but suggesting that children playing at the “hardened� versus the “green end� of the projects were not as well socialized might be missing the boat. Perhaps it's not the green vs. asphalt that makes the difference, but the fact that the kids growing up in neighborhoods with lawns and trees are also growing up with a different socio-economic background, and perhaps a stay-at-home parent. I be willing to bet think it's the green lawn and trees that are helping them. It's also important to note that, at least where we live in the suburbs of Boston, most of the communities with excellent schools seem to be the communities with twisting, heavily treed roads, and very little in the way of sidewalks on main roads. It would be a death sentence to expect a child to walk to school during the hours that many people are zipping along those roads in their cars while sipping a coffee, eating their breakfast, and talking on their mobile phone. My daughter either takes the bus (that picks her up across the street from our house) or gets a ride if she has a lot to carry because we live more than 2 miles from the school. She's very much in shape and healthy. We don't allow video games in our house, and limit TV and computer time to a couple hours per MONTH. Instead, we've taught our daughter to spend her free time wisely. She enjoys participating in sports (golf, competitive swimming, and softball), and when she has free time she spends a lot of ! it outside riding her bike, riding a scooter (not motorized), jumping rope or jumping on a pogo stick. We never allowed her to have one of those motorized cars that are so popular among the little kids. So, if you don't live in a place where your kids can walk to school there are plenty of other ways they can stay fit and healthy! Oh, and a big thank you to Great Schools for bringing us down to the 'gansta' level. I don't live in a 'hood' and I would venture to guess that most of your readers don't refer to their neighborhoods that way either!"
03/26/2010:
"To the person who wrote: 'i live in a neighborhood not a hood. dont we see slang and hear slang enough these days? please dont include bad grammar in your articles.' I completely agree with the spirit of your comment, but practice what you preach. A little proper capitalization and a couple of apostrophes would have made me applaud your comment rather than laugh at it! "
03/25/2010:
"I loved this article, too! It isn't blaming anybody for obesity but rather offering a different perspective on how we parents can improve the quality of our children's lives. I grew up walking a quarter-mile for the bus... my parents wouldn't have dreamed of driving me (or my brother). In middle school, we walked -- carrying books, instruments (yes, they had band back then!), and only getting a ride if the weather was really inclement (not drizzling or a bit cold). Perhaps because of this, we walk our son to/from school (about 6 blocks) every day. We love the time we have to talk about school, life, and dreams rather than listening to the radio or frustrated with rush-hour drivers. So quality, all round, improves when one lives close enough to school, work, etc. Thanks for the article!"
03/25/2010:
"I grew up in Germany and walked to school pretty much from 1 st grade until I graduated. Being driven was a real treat. BUT, we lived never more than 20-30 minutes walk from any of the schools. The distances in the States are far. Commuting 2 hours a day by car seems normal. I believe it's prioity to get your child to school safely. After school we go to the park, beach, run around the backyard,... Homework goes wherever we go. I don't believe in excessive homework, but maybe outdoor exploring homework would an option. Sometimes we just sit in our yard...watch and learn. You'd be suprised what you can discover."
03/25/2010:
"I am appalled that a website which promotes the value of education, would choose to utilize slang (the hood) in the title of an article. Judging from the letters received on your site and elswhere on the web, it is obvious that many Americans need a better educational foundation. I hope that in the future you will think twice before lowering your standards, in order to appeal to the latest fashion."
03/25/2010:
"i live in a neighborhood not a hood. dont we see slang and hear slang enough these days? please dont include bad grammar in your articles."
03/24/2010:
"I found this article to be a refreshing way to look at how to improve my child's quality of life. To often quality of life is confused with affluence when infact affluence may be degrading our quality of life. Thank you for the thinking. "
03/24/2010:
"What a great article! These points validate our decision to walk our kids to school."
03/24/2010:
"I love how they put the blame on the parents driving the kids Could the fact that kids have 2 hours of home work as early as first grade have anything to do with the lack of exercise thay get? Maybe if they did not have so much homework they would have time to walk home! "
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