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Planned Communities For Healthier Kids?

According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventative Health, children who live in neighborhoods designed for walking, or smart growth neighborhoods,get 46 percent more moderate or vigorous physical activity than children in areas designed for driving. The study found that these children get 10 extra minutes of physical activity per day. We were surprised by the size of the effects, says lead author Michael Jerrett, a professor at Berkeley's School of Public Health. Ten minutes of extra activity a day may not sound like much, but it adds up. During the study, researchers monitored the activity of 59 children in a planned community near Chino, Calif., and tracked the children's activity level using GPS monitors.

The children were compared to a control group of 88 kids who lived in a conventional community that was not walkable. Developers are seeing growth in smart communities, but existing communities are also being retrofitted in ways meant to encourage more exercise, says Kaid Benfield, director of sustainable communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.

The best way to retrofit suburbs is to redevelop parcels of land that become available as strip malls, big-box shopping, and regional malls go out of service, replacing them with more walkable, mixed-use development,Benfield says.

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