Objective. To test the hypothesis that preschool children have a higher prevalence of obesity, spend less time playing outdoors, and spend more time watching television (TV) when they live in neighborhoods that their mothers perceive as unsafe.

Methods. In a cross-sectional survey in 20 large US cities, mothers reported the average daily time of outdoor play and TV viewing for their 3-year-old children, and the children's BMI was measured. Maternal perception of neighborhood safety was assessed with the Neighborhood Environment for Children Rating Scales; the scale score was used to divide children into tertiles of neighborhood safety.

Results. Of the 3141 children studied, 35% lived in households with incomes below the US poverty threshold. After adjustment for sociodemographic factors (household income and mothers' education, race/ethnicity, age, and marital status), obesity prevalence (BMI ≥95th percentile) did not differ in children from the least safe to the safest neighborhood safety tertile (18% vs 17% vs 20%) or in weekday (160 vs 151 vs 156 minutes/day) or weekend (233 vs 222 vs 222 minutes/day) outdoor play time. Children who lived in neighborhoods that were perceived by their mothers as the least safe watched more TV (201 vs 182 vs 185 minutes/day) and were more likely to watch >2 hours/day (66% vs 60% vs 62%). TV viewing and outdoor play minutes were not significantly correlated to each other or to BMI.

Conclusions. In a national sample of preschool children, mothers' perception of neighborhood safety was related to their children's TV viewing time but not to their outdoor play time or risk for obesity.

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