Does sprawl really make people fat? A drive around the Chicago suburbs would certainly lead to this conclusion. It is always jarring to spend some time in downtown Chicago observing people and to then hop in the car and drive out to Naperville, Schaumburg, or some other such suburb.
Boing Boing had a recent post on this subject, and the results are not surprising. According to a recent study from Sciencenews.org, a typical male living in a mixed use community (downtown area where one walks to work), weighs an average of 10 lbs less than than a male in a single use community (suburb where everyone drives everywhere).
The study compares the urban areas of Vancouver, B.C. and Atlanta, GA:
Lawrence Frank is no couch potato. Taking full advantage of his city’s compact design, the Vancouver, British Columbia, resident often bikes to work and walks to stores, restaurants, and museums. That activity helps him stay fit and trim. But Frank hasn’t always found his penchant for self-propulsion to be practical. He previously lived in Atlanta, where the city’s sprawling layout thwarted his desire to be physically active as he went about his daily business.
“There was not much to walk to,” says Frank, a professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia. For example, he recalls that there was only one decent restaurant within walking distance of his old home. Many restaurants and other businesses in Atlanta cluster in strip malls that stand apart from residential areas.
In Vancouver, by contrast, Frank’s neighborhood contains dozens of eateries, and he often strolls to and from dinner. “I’m more active here,” he says.
The glaring difference between the two cities’ landscapes figures in Frank’s professional life as well as in his personal one. Frank is part of an emerging area of cross-disciplinary science that’s examining the relationship between the shapes of our cities and the shapes of our bodies.
He and other researchers have evidence that associates health problems with urban sprawl, a loose term for humanmade landscapes characterized by a low density of buildings, dependence on automobiles, and a separation of residential and commercial areas. Frank proposes that sprawl discourages physical activity, but some researchers suggest that people who don’t care to exercise choose suburban life. Besides working to settle that disagreement, researchers are looking at facets of urban design that may shortchange health.
As scientists investigate the relationship between sprawl and obesity, a compact style of city development sometimes called smart growth might become a tool in the fight for the nation’s health. However, University of Toronto economist Matthew Turner charges that “a lot of people out there don’t like urban sprawl, and those people are trying to hijack the obesity epidemic to further the smart-growth agenda [and] change how cities look.”
Read the complete post here. It is a very interesting read.
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