driving and obesity, driving atlanta, driving and health
AP/Ric Feld
Motorists on the freeway outside of Atlanta,
one of the U.S.'s sprawling cities that is
more car than pedestrian friendly.

Newer Sprawling Cities Mean More Driving, Poor Health for Residents

June 16, 2010 07:05 AM
by Haley A. Lovett
Cities in the United States that are unfriendly toward pedestrians may also contribute to rising obesity rates, as driving takes the place of walking for work commutes and errands.

City Planning May Contribute to Obesity Epidemic

Driving-only cities with sprawling populations, and stores and schools located far from residential areas, may be one reason why the U.S. population faces a growing obesity problem. 

Reuters points out that newer U.S. cities such as Phoenix and Atlanta tend to be designed for the car driver, and not for the pedestrian, as tightly packed cities such as New York and Boston are. These driving-only cities can lead to situations in which sedentary residents do less than 10 percent of the recommended daily exercise.

A 2004 study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found a direct link between the layout of a city and the probability that a resident would be obese. The more sprawling the area where a study participant lived, the more likely that participant was to be obese. The study found that “[e]ach additional hour spent in a car per day was associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity,” while the study also found that each kilometer walked per day decreased the overall likelihood of obesity.

Even outside the United States, some cities are finding that car travel is overtaking human-powered modes of transport. Canadian architecture professor Avi Friedman explained to that improper city design adds to the sedentary nature of a population. According to the article, 65 percent of Canadians do not live in urban areas and are therefore not within walking or biking distance of stores and schools. Friedman also points out that car-friendly roads are not kid-friendly, and outdoor play in kids is less common with lots of cars on the road.

Related Topic: How much exercise do we need?

The commonly known 10,000 steps a day rule, once just a number given by step-counting pedometer companies, was given clout in 2004 when Sports Medicine magazine published an article by researchers from Arizona State University that found that that count appeared to match up with recommendations made by U.S. health experts, saying that “10000 steps/day appears to be a reasonable estimate of daily activity for apparently healthy adults,” but that the estimate may be too low for children.

However, adults looking to lose weight may need to do more than just 10,000 steps each day. A study published last July found that study participants who lost weight were exercising twice as long as the 30 minutes a day recommended by doctors.

Opinion & Analysis: Are newer cities worse for walkers?

Each year the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) and Prevention magazine publish a list of the best walking cities in America, with the criteria for choosing those cities changing slightly each year. In 2009, some of the leading cities included San Francisco, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. 

The New York Times Blog Freakonomics looked at the 40 largest cities as scored by Walk Score (a site that rates how pedestrian-friendly a city is) and found some surprising trends. Of the 40 largest cities, the author noted that the majority of the top 10 most pedestrian-friendly were all near large bodies of water, and the majority of the bottom 10 cities were inland (inland cities have more room to grow, those on the water are limited by the water for building space). Freakonomics also noted that the most walkable cities were mostly older cities, built when longer distance transportation was much more time consuming and expensive, and that the newer cities and suburbs of older cities are built to accommodate car transportation.

Reference: Walks in New York, creative hiking ideas

Walking around a city like New York can be daunting. Find the best pedestrian areas and explore the sights by foot using the New York City Survival Guide’s “Walking in New York City” section.

If you are looking to walk outside of a city, take a look at findingDulcinea’s Barefoot Hiking and Other Unique Ways to Hit the Trails feature.

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