30 August 2003

Sprawl Linked to Obesity

Street without PedestriansFrom the press release:

“A new national study and special issues of two prestigious medical journals released today offer powerful indications that sprawling development has a hand in the country’s obesity crisis. Together, they demonstrate the urgent need to invest in making America’s neighborhoods appealing and safe places to walk and bicycle. The peer-reviewed study, which used a county sprawl index developed in partnership with Smart Growth America, found that people living in automobile-dependent neighborhoods that suppress walking do indeed walk less, weigh more, and are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure. The study, Relationship between Urban Sprawl and Physical Activity, Obesity, and Morbidity is being published in a special issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. Smart Growth America and the Surface Transportation Policy Project have issued a companion report, Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl, which gives county-level data illustrating the findings for the metropolitan areas studied. In most metropolitan areas, residents in more sprawling counties are heavier and face higher odds of being obese and having high blood pressure than those in less sprawling counties... The report outlines seven steps communities can take to respond to the findings of the research.”

The paper was presented at the 11th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, an organization that pushes for all new development in the United States to be more compact and walkable.

Street with PedestriansThe metropolitan sprawl index:

“uses 22 variables to characterize four ‘factors’ of sprawl for 83 of the largest metropolitan area in the US for the year 2000. The sprawl ‘scores’ for each metropolitan area show how much they spread out housing, segregate homes from other places, have only weak centers of activity, and have poorly connected street networks.... The county sprawl index uses six variables from the US Census and the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Inventory to account for residential density and street accessibility.”

The sprawl index of 448 counties was compared to body mass index and data on average weight drawn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research into other factors, such as linking location to what and how much people eat, and analysis at the neighborhood level is forthcoming.

Obesity in the United States is at an all time high. More than two-thirds of adults are overweight and nearly 1 in 3 are obese. Obesity is rapidly catching up to tobacco use as the leading cause of death. [source]

via Planetizen