Lead author Rachel Kimbro of Rice University, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of Columbia University and Sara McLanahan of Princeton University say children living in places of high physical disorder -- areas with graffiti, trash and abandoned homes -- also play outside more per day.
The researchers found a mother's perception of her neighborhood's physical and social environment is a key predictor of how long her children play outdoors.
"A key to solving obesity problems among poor, urban children is to create safe and open spaces where these kids can play, because now we know that they are outside playing," Kimbro says in a statement. "It's possible that children living in public housing have access to community playgrounds and courtyards for children to play outdoors, which could be why we see more outside play time for them."
Mothers who perceive higher levels of collective efficacy -- how likely the mother thinks neighbors will intervene if a child skips school and hangs out on the street, and if she thinks her neighborhood is cohesive with neighbor willing to help neighbor -- allow their children to play outdoors longer.
The findings are scheduled to be published in the Social Science & Medicine.