Live in the city, stay slim

Study finds links between urban sprawl and obesity;
Geauga County is most sprawling

If you want to lose weight and avoid hypertension, you might want to move from Geauga County to Cuyahoga County. That's one of the findings of the first national study to show a clear association between the type of place people live and their activity levels, weight, and health.

The peer-reviewed study, "A National Analysis of Physical Activity, Obesity, and Morbidity," found that people living in counties marked by sprawling development are likely to walk less and weigh more than people who live in less sprawling counties. In addition, people in more sprawling counties are more likely to suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure).

The study ranked 448 counties in urban areas in the U.S. according to a "sprawl index" that accounts for residential density and street accessibility, and it found that people in the most sprawling areas are likely to weigh six pounds more than people in the most compact county. Geauga County outside of Cleveland was the most sprawling county in the sample, and its residents were found to have an 8.13% higher chance of obesity than average, as well as a 4.49% higher risk of hypertension. Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Lake counties also are more sprawling than average and have higher health risks on these measures. In contrast, Cuyahoga County sprawls less and has lower than average risks for obesity and hypertension.

Routine physical activity seems to be key to reducing obesity levels. And the study suggests that people in sprawling areas seem to be missing out on significant health benefits that are available simply by walking, biking, climbing stairs, and getting physical activity as part of everyday life. The design of their communities often makes driving a car the most convenient and safe way to do daily tasks.

The solution is to consider how the billions spent on transportation and development can make communities more walkable and bikeable.

For more information or to download the complete study, go the Web site of Smart Growth America or call 202-207-3350.


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People living in low-density, automobile-dependent communities get lless exercise and suffer from higher rates of obesity.

Full study on the health effects of sprawl

Active Living by Design project
Safe Routes to School Initiative
Centers for Disease Control



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