We know that there's a correlation between obesity and suburban sprawl. But what's the nature of the connection? The traditional conclusion is that the fewer opportunities to walk and ride bicycles in suburban and exurban communities exact a toll on physical health -- in short, that living in the 'burbs can make you fat.
But two Oregon State researchers have come to a different conclusion. In their research, just published in Journal of Regional Science, they find that living in sprawl doesn't make one fat, but that a reluctance to walk or ride bikes makes one more likely to want to live in the suburbs!
The researchers found that fit people choose to live in neighborhoods that allow them to walk to work or shop and fat people pick places where they need a car.
The study was adjusted to eliminate differences due to income and other factors.
The upshot is that changes to urban design may not have the health effects many of us might wish for. Real change will require changing people's minds about exercise. Sadly, this may be even harder than transforming urban landscapes.
Chicken... egg... chicken... egg...
Frankly, who cares. Whether fat people choose to live where they have little opportunity to exercise, or whether they are fat because of where they choose to live, they're still fat. And the attitudes are unlikely to change -- unlike smoking, which was considered "cool" no-so-long-ago, "fat" has been considered not cool for quite some time. Societal pressures have been stacked against fat people for quite some time. And yet, the collective American waistline continues to expand at an alarming rate. And it's not just the suburbs that have high numbers of fat people -- next time you step away from the city, away from the 'burbs, check out a small town community. You'll be surprised.
The really sad part is parents not taking responsibility (yet again) for ensuring that their children don't follow the axium of "monkey see, monkey do."