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Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2008 May 14;5:28. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-5-28.

Crime rates and sedentary behavior among 4th grade Texas school children.

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  • 1Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living, Division of Management, Policy and Community Health, University of Texas School of Public Health, 313 E, 12th Street, Suite 220, Austin, TX 78701, USA.



Although per capita crime has generally fallen over the period which coincides with the obesity epidemic, it has not fallen uniformly across communities. It also has not fallen enough to allay fears on the part of parents. Over the past 30 years, technological changes have made the indoor alternatives to playing outside, where children are more vulnerable to criminal activity, more enjoyable (cable TV, video games, and the internet) and comfortable (the spread of air conditioning to low income neighborhoods). We determined whether indoor sedentary behavior patterns are associated with community crime statistics. 4th graders in the U.S. are typically 9 or 10 years old.


We used data from the 2004-2005 Texas School Physical Activity and Nutrition (SPAN) survey linked with U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics data for the years 2000 through 2005 and Texas State data on sexual offenders. The probability-based sample included a total of 7,907 children in grade four. Multistage probability sampling weights were used. The dependent variables included were hours of TV watching, video game playing, computer use and total indoor sedentary behavior after school. Incremental Relative Rates were computed for community crime rates including robberies, all violent crimes, murders, assaults, property crimes, rapes, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts as well as for sexual offenders living in the neighborhood. The neighborhood refers to the areas where the students at each school live. In the case of sexual offenders, sexual offenders per capita are estimated using the per capita rate in the zip code of the school attended; all other crime statistics are estimated by the crimes per capita in the police department jurisdiction covering the school attended. After controlling for sex, age, and African-American and Hispanic, cross-sectional associations were determined using multivariate Poisson regression.


4th grade boys were more likely to play video games in communities with increased per 100 population rates of larceny and burglary as well as in communities with increased per capita sexual offenders; 4th grade girls were more likely to watch television in communities with increased per capita sexual offenders. While 4th grade girls were more likely to watch TV in communities with increased per capita sex offenders, they were less likely to use computers. Per capita sexual offenders were negatively related to computer use amongst 4th grade girls.


By combining community crime and cross-sectional individual level data on indoor sedentary behavior, we found that there is an association between community crimes/sex offender rates and certain types of indoor sedentary behavior. The development of technologies in recent decades which makes supervising children easier indoors, where children are much less vulnerable to crime, may be contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity.

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