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JJK5

Sprawl: Does it make people fat?

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Weighing In on City Planning:

Could smart urban design keep people fit and trim?

..."The overarching message is that the built environment is an enabler or a disabler of active transportation-of walking,"...

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There is a direct link between sprawl and obesity. If you live in a sprawl-centered community like Atlanta or Houston, you are dependent on your car to get you from Point A to Point B. So much of your time is spent driving that the only physical activity you get is getting out of your car and going in your home.

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When I lived in suburbia, I would drive to my local strip mall and park near the store I desired. If the next store on my shopping list was at the other end of the same mall, I would rather move my car down there, as opposed to walking past uninteresting big box stores and then back again (passing the same stores).

When I am in a true urban environment, I will walk block after block and return on the other side of the streets. That way, my whole round trip is passing different shops. This keeps my interest and the exercise I get, is a bonus.

There is a major difference in the eating options in the two locals. Suburbia has mostly corporate fast-food restaurants, which serve many trans-fat items. Downtown will have more unique bistros, which serve a healthier, home-made fare.

So, based on these observations, yes, suburbia = fat.

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I am a firm believer that our country's suburban mindset and physical form is ONE of the direct causes of the obesity problem. If everyone walked to every destination within a mile, we'd all be burning way more calories per day and not even considering it as exercise time. Suburbia has become way too convenient with everything, allowing us to do everything exerting the least amount of energy.

When I lost weight, I started out by doing things like walking to the gym, walking to the grocery store, etc., and it worked. The thing that makes the least amount of sense to me is all the people who live within a mile or two of their gym, yet drive there and then do cardio.

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I live in the city, I do not own a car, I walk to work. I walk at least 2.5 miles a day by walking to work. I could still lose a few pounds. If I owned a car and drove everywhere they would probably have to remove one of the walls of my house to get me out. Not owning a car is the only way I can support my ice cream habit.

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I do think sprawl, or automotive biased design definitely can lead to people being overweight. Myself, being overweight(but losing, 64 lbs to date, try to make myself walk more all the time. When I do go to a shopping center, I park at the most distant space I can find and do not go back to the car unless it is to store purchases. The neighborhood I live in, while it could be considered sprawl, has a very easily accessible by foot shopping center with a supermarket, drug store, 4 restaurants, coffee shop, Hair and Nail salon, gym (well a Curves, doesn't help me much), dollar store, dry cleaners, and soon to add a bank and doctor's office. I walk there consistently. The only time I drive that distance (less than .5 mile) is if I'm purchasing more than I can carry in my backpack/cart or if the weather is treacherous. It does amaze me, that while at this center I can observe drive from the supermarket area over to the Mexican restaurant. I mean, there's only 7 or 8 rows of parking there, it's fairly level with nice wide pedestrian areas. Can't you walk it?

One thing that has got me on this is the recent campaign to walk 10,000 steps per day. This is believed to be about what people many years ago walked in their daily lives before cars, televisions, and computers. At first I was averaging around 6,000 now I'm hitting right at 9,500.

City leaders, the public, and developers need to realize that the automobile convenience we've designed for have helped us to gain the weight. We need to use our heads to get ourselves on our feet and walk in our environments more.

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Yes, I do believe it does. It encourages a culture of driving everywhere, even if it's across hte parking lot from SaveMart to Burger World. When I was in Austria, I walked much much more. I walked 1.5 miles or so to class every day and didn't even think a thing of it. The other day I measured 1.5 miles from my house by car and realized that I have never walked that far. I remember a few times in high school before I had a driver's license, walking home (through the woods) and thinking it was such a huge accomplishment. (Though, in retrospect, with all the swinging branches and brush and everything (our woods are very very thick), it was quite an accomplishment).

Everything is relative, I guess. The lengths that people go to in this country to avoid walking is amazing.

But, creating urban areas where people walk as much as they do in Europe won't necessarily make us skinny. It'd be healthier, but we also need to work on portion size. Portion sizes in Europe are very nice, because it's always just enough food.. and if you are ravenous and are still hungry afterward, you can get a dessert and it does the job.

Here, by the time the waitress asks if we want dessert, we're already trying to figure out ways that we can roll eachother out of hte damn restaurant. And I'm just as guilty as anyone else.. I hate ordering food and leaving half to throw away.. and restaurants don't like it when you order half.. but it's something they need to concentrate on.

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I know someone who is diabetic and overweight and lived all of his life in suburbs until moving into DC just last year. He and I went out to brunch right before Christmas and I suggested we walk the 7 blocks to the restaurant. He looked at me aghast as though we were walking to siberia or something. I think that suburban sprawl especially suburbs designed in 50's, 60's and 70's encourage automobile usage versus walking and therefore contibute to obesity.

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THe "sprawl/guns/whatever don't make/kill/insert verb people (fat), people do" is not a good argument. Humans are not 100% instantly adaptable to their surroundings. When our culture changed from a walking/urban/rural hard physical labor society into a driving/suburban/low physical activity society in a matter of a few decades, our food intake did not decrease in proportion, it actually increased quite a bit.

We spent most of our existence making people feel bad for not "cleaning their plates" because there were "people starving in China", and then we take that attitude and double portion sizes and what do you get? Fatter.

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Supposedly, no--at least according to this research.

From the article's conclusion:

It has been widely observed that urban sprawl is associated with higher rates of obesity. This observation has led many researchers to infer that urban sprawl causes obesity. The available evidence does not, in fact, permit this conclusion. The higher observed rates of obesity associated with urban sprawl are also consistent with the sorting of obese people into sprawling neighborhoods.

In this paper we conduct an analysis which permits us to distinguish between these two possibilities. Our results strongly suggest that urban sprawl does not cause weight gain. Rather, people who are more likely to be obese (e.g., because they have an idiosyncratic distaste for walking) are also more likely to move to sprawling neighborhoods (e.g., because they can more easily move around by car). Of course the built environment may still place constraints on the type of exercise that people are able to take or the nature of the diet that they consume. The key point is that individuals who have a lower propensity to being obese will choose to avoid those kinds of neighborhoods. What if they are not always able to avoid those neighborhoods because (say) their choice is constrained for financial reasons? Our results suggest that, even then, individuals adjust their exercise and diet to avoid gaining weight. Overall, we find no evidence that neighborhood characteristics have any causal effect on weight.

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Residential Self Selection (RSS) is an interesting topic in the transportation world. If you have time, research this phenomenon. It is based on the notion that people choose the housing environments that they want to live in. People who prefer to walk tend to choose neighborhoods that are condusive to walking, which tend to be more urban in nature. These are neighborhoods where walking is more than just a form of exercise- its a mode of transportation. People who don't will choose neighborhoods where it is not as easily accomodated, which tends to be suburbia. Its not that suburbia makes people fat, but that its more condusive to that lifestyle.

But I think its hard to make the argument that the auto oriented lifestyle doesn't have some effect on health and size.

And for the food argument- that irritates me more and more every day. I can't go to a restaurant and get just enough, its always twice as much. But restaurants give you too much so that you won't go away hungry (which in theory brings you back, becuase you know that you'll have plently of food). I hate to waste food, but I'm not going to over eat just to clean my plate!

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Hopefully this hasn't been posted already.. The article discusses whether there is a correlation between urban sprawl and increases in obesity.

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I don't think that sprawl makes people fat. I live in Houston and my neighborhood is perfectly walkable. There is even a park, which most Houston neighborhoods have with a greenbelt so that I can walk my dog away from the car traffic and noise. People in urban neighborhoods don't have to exercise. They can order pizza, or whatever to be delivered like anyone else can. The reason for obesity is that Americans are workaholics and spend more time behind the computer or at a desk in the office than they do outside walking.

Suburbs are not making it inconvenient to excursive, jobs are. After working all day in an office in one location and arriving home at 6 or so, most people are tired and choose not to take that jog. Europeans have a more relaxed work schedule plus a month of paid vacation every year.

Plus it can be argued that urban neighborhoods that are walkable are bad places for the handicapped or the elderly. Urban living is a demographic trend that is catered toward educated yuppies with no kids and lots of disposable income.

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The difference is that in an urban environment your daily activities usually involve walking or exercise of some sort- much more so than a suburban one. Its not that you can't be healthy in suburbia, its that it requires more effort. You said it your self: "After working all day in an office in one location and arriving home at 6 or so, most people are tired and choose not to take that jog." In an urban environment your commute would involve more walking (if not all walking), so you would by default get more exercise.

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the use of public transportation generally involves some walking and standing as well, and of course public transportation is much more heavily provided and used in urban areas.

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I think it is a combination of things. The suburbs have been here since WWII, but people did not start getting fat in large numbers until about 20 - 25 years ago, and mostly in the last 20 years. Sure, using public transit is good for weight control because it does involve a lot of walking but cities also offer ready access to very bad choices in nutrition as do the suburbs and it is my feeling that most people are getting fat not because they are riding in cars, but because they eat too much of the wrong foods. Everyone eats out of a box or fast food now whereas 25 years ago there was no such thing as microwave food and fast food was considered a treat and not a staple place to eat. In other words, it took a lot more effort to get to food than it does now and that is the biggest reason that people are getting fat.

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Food for the working masses must be...

1. Cheap.

2. High in carbs.

If folks remember anything about Rome was a term they used: "Bread and circuses". Bread was the main food for Romans, meat was a luxury let alone even avoided (in days of no ice or refrigeration it's understandable!). For over 2,000 years Westerners and Easterners depended on simple carbs/starch to exist, as energy calories were needed to produce. When before meals took 3hrs to prepare, in a fast technological society it can't spend 6hrs over a stove. Thus, we have mass produced cheap carbs, instead. But unlike before, when the carbs were used for heavy physical labor, today the jobs require sitting for 8hrs a day behind some computer or counter. Evolution takes time, and more than 100 years to compensate for the simple carb overload.

Reduction of carbs in the diet is what's needed, since the days of hard physical labor is gone in developed countries. And less attention paid to diets and other fads, since it's what's creating these eating disorders in the first place (like eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting, then throwing it back up to not gain 5,000 calories).

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Suburbs are not making it inconvenient to excursive, jobs are. After working all day in an office in one location and arriving home at 6 or so, most people are tired and choose not to take that jog.

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Plus it can be argued that urban neighborhoods that are walkable are bad places for the handicapped or the elderly.

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How could cities be bad places for handicapped and elderly? First, they are better served by transit, both fixed-route and paratransit, and many handicapped/elderly can't drive. Second, they generally have sidewalks and curb ramps that are ADA compliant, so it's much easier for those in wheelchairs for example to get around. Not to mention most things are much closer in the city. Suburbs on the other hand tend to have either no sidewalks or sidewalks with huge curbs that are too narrow for many wheelchairs.

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Everything is relative, I guess. The lengths that people go to in this country to avoid walking is amazing.

But, creating urban areas where people walk as much as they do in Europe won't necessarily make us skinny. It'd be healthier, but we also need to work on portion size. Portion sizes in Europe are very nice, because it's always just enough food.. and if you are ravenous and are still hungry afterward, you can get a dessert and it does the job.

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What's bland about steamed cod with butter and a potato? :) Or mush for that matter. Okay, I see your point.

But Americans certainly don't have "bland food" per se. There is nothing bland about the giganto portions that people eat at Chinese buffets.

I think what gets us is also the way we eat. Many cultures have their largest meal at lunch with a small breakfast and dinner. Germans tend to eat a breakfast of assorted rolls with butter and jam and some cheese with possibly a hardboiled egg and coffee/juice.

Then for lunch they have something hot, like Sauerbraten or Wurst or whatever.. and for dinner, it's back to rolls and cold cuts and generally whatever's left over from lunch.

In England (where we get a lot of our eating habits from), people like to start off the day with bacon, sausage, fried tomatoes/mushrooms, eggs, baked beans, and then bread fried in the bacon grease... then the tradition was that you pack your lunch along with you to work.. hence inventions like the Cornish pasty.. and then you came home to a bigger supper.

This is completely built around an industrialized society where you can't just drop everything at noon and spend an hour and a half eating lunch. It also has adverse effects on your health.

We not only need to change WHAT we eat, but also the way we eat. If we were to change our diet to fit our lifestyle, we wouldn't be so fat.. but the fact is, most people living in the suburbs with little physical activity and working at a desk probably don't need more than about 1800 calories a day.

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I definitely agree that suburban sprawl does lead to obesity. I've seen it in my own life. Since I've moved to a walkable area (groceries, drug stores, restaurants, bars, coffee shop, movies, etc. all within walking distance), I do walk a lot more and I've lost over ten pounds.

It's sadly pathetic that the US has become a nation of lazy, obese whiners who complain when they have to walk more than a hundred feet.

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