Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Living In The Burbs

Suburban sprawl is linked to obesity

By Helen Fields
US News & World Report

People have suspected for a while that living in suburban sprawl makes you fat, because walking to work or the store just isn't an option. A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually looked at individuals' environments and obesity.

What the researchers wanted to know: Are people who live in residential areas where they have to drive to get anywhere more likely to be obese than people who can walk to stores?

What they did: The researchers designed a telephone survey of 10,878 people who live in and around Atlanta. Respondents were asked about their income, how much time they spend in the car, how much they walk, and their height and weight. (Obesity was calculated using body mass index, or BMI, which is a person's weight in kilograms divided by his or her height in meters squared.) The researchers combined the survey data with information about the type of neighborhood each respondent's house was in.

What they found: People who live in residential areas, people who spend more time in cars, and people who didn't walk much were more likely to be obese. For example, the odds of being obese increased by 6 percent for each hour spent in the car every day. The data were adjusted for age, income, and education.

What this study means to you: If you treat obesity as a public-health problem— which many researchers say you should—the risk of obesity could be figured into decisions about development and suburban sprawl.

Caveats: The study just makes a correlation between neighborhood and obesity—it doesn't prove that one causes the other. Atlanta doesn't have every possible type of neighborhood, so there could be other variations that would make a difference in obesity. And the researchers used whatever people gave as their height and weight.

Find out more: Learn more about factors that can lead to obesity at the CDC's website.

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