Transportation’s Role in Reducing Childhood Obesity

Supported by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF): An Effort to Reduce Childhood Obesity

Defining the Issue

Over the past four decades, the obesity rate among children ages 6 to 11 has more than quadrupled; it’s more than tripled among adolescents ages 12 to 19.1 Today, nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese. One third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.2

In addition, a 2011 research brief from Active Living Research notes that, according to a growing body of evidence, “the built environment can positively influence physical activity for both recreational and transportation purposes.” Broadly defined, the built environment includes the man-made surroundings that provide settings for physical activity, such as neighborhoods, streets, public transportation systems, commercial centers, schools, parks, trails, and other outdoor recreational spaces.

Brighton, Michigan (2006)
Brighton, Michigan (2006)
Source: / Dan Burden

About the Project

In 2010, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to explore the role transportation can play in reducing childhood obesity.

The goal of the project was to help ITE’s more than 17,000 members, who include traffic engineers, transportation planners, academicians, and transportation policy leaders, have a positive impact on the level of physical activity, health, and quality of life of individuals in the communities they serve. ITE’s primary goal in this work is to inform, motivate, and advocate for change in the implementation and behavioral habits of transportation decision makers to create healthier communities.

ITE has established a diverse group of core professionals to serve as a technical advisory committee (TAC) to guide the development of a series of technical resources aimed at promoting this message. The criteria for participation included: (1) representation from regions where childhood obesity is prevalent; (2) the ability to attend local ITE meetings; and (3) demonstrated interest or activity-related to research, design or policy-development that focuses on the nexus of multimodal facilities and health. The primary resources being developed through this effort include: (1) RWJF-supported sessions at a series of three of ITE international meetings; (2) participation in local or regional meetings addressing this topic; and (3) an information clearinghouse of Web-based articles, references, presentations, links, and other relevant materials.

About this Web Resource

Recent research on Active Living as it relates to physical activity often does not include transportation professionals as significant stakeholders. If we are truly to achieve “active living by design,” transportation professionals must be seen and felt as a major part of the stakeholder mix. This Web resource is intended to enhance our efforts to make that connection by sharing information with transportation professionals and others. ITE hopes to use this opportunity to broaden our informational support and advocacy for the design and construction of safe and accessible routes for walking and biking to specifically focus on how these efforts are connected and can have a positive impact on reducing childhood obesity in vulnerable populations.

This Web resource is intended as a starting point for Information Clearinghouse of statistics, best practices, resources, ITE articles, conference session summaries, and other various tools and information that are easily available for download. It is intended that these resources be updated on a regular basis as new materials are made available.

1Ogden, Cynthia Ph.D., Margaret D. Carroll, MSPH, Lester R. Curtin, Ph.D., Molly M. Lamb, Ph.D., Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D. “Prevalence of High Body Mass Index in U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2007–2008.” JAMA. 2010; 303(3): 242-249. doi:10.1001/jama.2009. 2012.

2Ogden, Cynthia Ph.D., Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D., Margaret D. Carroll, MS, Clifford L. Johnson, MSPH. “Prevalence and Trends in Overweight Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 1999–2000.” JAMA. 2002; 288(14): 1728–1732. doi:10.1001/jama.288.14.1728.

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