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Science

Does Sprawl Make Us Fat? 659

Posted by kdawson
from the spreading-out dept.
Ant writes "A Science News article talks about the relationship between city design and health. New cross-disciplinary research is exploring whether urban sprawl makes us soft, or whether people who don't like to exercise move to the sprawling suburbs, or some combination of both." From the article: "So far, the dozen strong studies that have probed the relationships among the urban environment, people's activity, and obesity have all agreed, says Ewing. 'Sprawling places have heavier people... There is evidence of an association between the built environment and obesity.' ... However, University of Toronto economist Matthew Turner charges that 'a lot of people out there don't like urban sprawl, and those people are trying to hijack the obesity epidemic to further the smart-growth agenda [and] change how cities look.' ... 'We're the only ones that have tried to distinguish between causation and sorting... and we find that it's sorting,' [says Turner]. 'The available facts do not support the conclusion that sprawling neighborhoods cause weight gain.'"
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Does Sprawl Make Us Fat?

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  • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:11PM (#17733268) Homepage Journal
    The objections quoted in TFS are debunked quite well in the linked science article. Additionally, research earlier this year shows teenagers living in sprawling suburbs were more than twice as likely to be overweight as teens in more compact urban areas [prorev.com]

    These kids have never moved, never had a choice about where they live and are still much fatter.

    It's a no brainer really. Less walking opportunities = less energy expenditure = more stored energy (as well as eating crap on those long, boring car journeys to work/school to save on cooking time at home so you can sit in front of the idiot box).

    Anyway, the failure of town planners is going to work out by itself in the end. As oil prices skyrocket & people in the suburbs grow fatter, the solution become obvious. Liposuction clinics combined with gas stations ;-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by scoot80 (1017822)
      The comforts we have in our lives make us fat. We can order food online, change channels with a remote, we don't even really have to use pens anymore.

      The human race has come from lean mean hunting machines(?) to the slobs we are. The more technology we have, the more we turn into slobs.
      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:42PM (#17733602) Homepage Journal
        Until we have so much technology that we can reshape ourselves at will!

        • by mollymoo (202721) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:26AM (#17734018) Journal
          We can already reshape ourselves at will. Want to be thinner? Eat less, excercise more. The technologies of diet and physical fitness are more than advanced enough to give you pretty much whatever body shape you desire (though we can't do much about bone structure yet). I think when you say 'at will' you really mean 'without having to change your lifestyle'.
          • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:29AM (#17734046) Homepage Journal
            When I say "at will" I mean "without effort".. which is pretty much the standard definition of "at will".

            For example, my employment contract is "at will". If they don't wanna pay me anymore they tell me and stop paying me. If they had to "change their lifestyle" to stop paying me, that wouldn't be "at will".
            • by Shaper_pmp (825142) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @07:48AM (#17736388)
              "At will" means at your own discretion, not "easily" or "without effort".

              Kind of like how back in the day infantrymen were sometimes ordered to "fire at will" - this means they could choose their own targets and choose when to fire, not that the guns didn't have stiff triggers.

              Tsk.
      • by JebusIsLord (566856) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @01:39AM (#17734588) Homepage
        I just moved out of the suburbs into a community that is a 30 minute walk from my workplace downtown. I also sold my car (partly so I could afford to live down there). My quality of life has improved tenfold. I have more spending money, more free time after/before work, and I've lost about 10 lbs. walking.

        Life is good.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Mr2cents (323101)
          I also moved to be able to ride a bicycle to work. The advantages are huge: A daily dosis of sport (good for the condition), enourmous savings on gas and a car, a good feeling because I actually do something about the greenhouse gasses, and - according to my doctor - an additional 6 years of my life in good health (statistically) (if I don't end up under a truck).
    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:24PM (#17733406) Homepage Journal
      I don't know if all the US is like this, but every spawling area that I've been to in the US is insanely pedestrian unfriendly. There are very few crosswalks on major roads, forcing people to dash across, typically to an offramp that has "no pedestrians" signs on it, even though there is no pedestrian access ways nearby. I've never seen a foot bridge over a major road, nor a tunnel. In fact, I've been to parts of the US which don't provide ANY pedestrian access to a mall. I guess they figure that if you don't drive a car then you don't have enough money to shop in their store.

      Compare this to Australia and Europe, where there is as much urban sprawl as the worst parts of the US but every road has a sidewalk, every set of lights has a crosswalk, and foot bridges and tunnels are commonplace. This results in two things: getting in your car to go get milk and bread is considered lazy and, as a result, there's lots of small "corner stores" to get milk and bread almost everywhere people live. Kids walk to school, and/or catch public transport. And seeing as there are lots of people on the streets, street crime is virtually unheard of - it's a lot easier to mug someone if the only people nearby are in cars with their windows rolled up because they're afraid of street crime.

      • by MadAhab (40080) <slasher&ahab,com> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:43PM (#17733620) Homepage Journal
        Very well put. And behind this study is similar reasoning to what you provide; mixed-use communities provide more opportunities to walk someplace.

        On a personal note, I gained a lot of weight after moving to the burbs. Living in NYC and walking up 3 flights of stairs kept me more active. Even in an elevator building, I did a lot of walking around with groceries.

        Unfortunately in America, "sprawl" is a term that has been continuously co-opted, in many parts of America, to mean "let's have large lot sizes to retain our rural character" which of course *creates* sprawl. Other parts of the country, e.g. California, which have huge amounts of building purely residential developments on empty hills, have other problems. Namely, gated-community-type shit, which dictate all houses have to look alike and no commercial development. This demands that you drive a few miles to a strip mall just to buy milk.

        Americans need to rethink development in a very serious way.
        • by fossa (212602)

          I moved to one of two areas in my medium sized American town with any sort of shopping within walking distance (grocery, a few cafes, various other shops). It isn't looked upon as being the "nicest" neighboorhood, but it's pretty nice, and I love being within walking distance of "stuff". I've actually been made fun of for choosing that neighboorhood and for taking my own grocery bag to the store and carrying my groceries home... Maybe it's a little jealousy, but I don't quite get it.

          The rest of town is

        • by zippthorne (748122) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:07AM (#17733852) Journal
          Well the good news is that development is starting to be rethought in a very serious way. Many people are sick of/not impressed by the homogeneous golf course dormitories. Upscale communities are now being built around a "New Urban" concept which has closer together residences interspersed with shops and services. It's either a scaled down small town or a scaled up vacation resort depending on how you think about it.

          The irony is that it's the same snobs who brought us sprawling gated communities that are pushing the move to more walkable residential areas.
          • by Geof (153857) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @01:37AM (#17734560) Homepage

            New urbanism is probably a step in the right direction, but it appears to be missing critical elements of successful older neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs emphasizes the need for buildings of various ages (and which can be repurposed as the community changes): the book shops in old houses, funky music stores, arty cafes and so on that make for a hip urban environment often can't afford the rent of flashy new buildings. It strikes me as strange that a society which so strongly rejected the idea (if not always the practice) of central planning during the Cold War prides itself in its "master planned" communities."

            Furthermore, a vibrant community requires more than just residential and commercial uses. The plans I have seen often look attractive, but on closer examination bear a striking resemblance to malls turned inside out and mixed with housing. They may have greenspace or plazas, but like the landscaping around so many highrises these are often private or effectively gated. The real test of urban spaces is whether they are used. Once built, the pretty designs of planners are often lonely places. On the other hand, sometimes the least attractive spaces are great successes (think of skate parks).

            So I don't really think it's ironic the planners of gated communities are building new urban spaces which can also be privatized and desolate; they're simply taking their old approach of centralization and control and dressing it up in new clothes.

            On the other hand, it's not all their fault. Developers who do want to take a risk often run into senseless rules regulating every detail of their communities, such as requirements for streets big enough for fire trucks to turn around in to minimum parking spaces, wide streets, huge setbacks in front of buildings, low densities, and so forth. Sprawl has been institutionalized in North America, and bureaucracy has been slow to change. (And I suspect rather than releasing their grip they're probably just making up new rules.)

      • It's certainly not as friendly as europe, but things are definitely changing for the better in Colorado.

        I technically live in an ex-burb (cringe) and they haven't finished building all the paths, but there are a few places I can get to mostly on bike trails, and within a few years we'll be connected to one of the main trail networks so i'll be able to travel to locations around 15 miles away rarely crossing any roads. A fair number of the new roads have bike lanes.

        I can think of a few pedestrian bridges ove
        • Re:Not so here (Score:5, Insightful)

          by arivanov (12034) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @02:19AM (#17734818) Homepage
          You are comparing apples and oranges. There are places in Colorado which are way more advanced the UK as far as pedestrianisation and cycling facilities.

          Boulder and surrounding areas is a prime example - you can get on foot from anywhere to anywhere (there are others as well). Most of the city center is a huge no-car zone which is something that I did not expect to find outside Europe. Once you get outside the no-car area you still have cycling lanes on every road as well as cycle paths which combine into a huge cycling network that spans at least several miles out and penetrates into the neighbouring suburbia and business parks. All buses carry cycle racks and the driver is happy to pick up your cycle and drop it off.

          After suffering from the half hearted assinine approach to cycling in Cambridge which is supposed to be the "greenest" and "cycliest" UK city, I felt like I have died and went to heaven. It simply felt unreal. No deliberate obstructions on the cycle paths with bollards. Sufficient and properly positioned car parking so that people are not forced to park on top of cycle lanes. All cycle paths are maintained and have proper visibility. Compared to that in Cambridge the average visibility on most cycle paths drops to under 10m in mid-summer due to the city council not giving a flying fuck about cutting any branches and doing any maintenance.

          USA is not a sprawl all over and some portions of the sprawl are built in a healthier and more cycling/pedestrian friendly manner than anything in the UK and possibly most of EU. When looking at Boulder, the only comparison I can think of are the richer neighbourhoods in Finland (like Espoo). And even Espoo does not have a sky-run/cycle network all over like Boulder. It is confined to the center and the area where it connects to the mainland.
          • Re:Not so here (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hey! (33014) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @08:26AM (#17736614) Homepage Journal
            Boulder is also a small, extremely wealthy community. This is not to discount what they've accomplsihed there. Attitude does make a difference in remaking a landscape, but not as much as wealth.

            In a way, it reminds me of the John Christopher novel The Guardians. Most people are shovelled into sprawling "conurbs", where everything is engineered around efficiently supporting vast number of powerless people. The elite live in the "Country", using their wealth to live, superficially, as if they were in the nineteenth century. They helicopter from their jobs as adminstrators and professionals in the conurbs to hidden landing pads, then ride their horses back home.

            What Christopher was writing about back in 1970 was overpopulation, but it also was about what we'd call today "urban sprawl". The logical end point of sprawl is to divide people into two classes, those who must live with it, and those who can evade its consequences by creating artificial enviornments where the logical consequences of sprawl are externalized.

            So, in poor communities, you drive to the WalMart to buy things. In wealthy communities, we build replicas of the old village square or high street.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by smellsofbikes (890263)
              I live right next to the Largest Wal-Mart In The Entire United States, which is in a suburb of Denver. There are bike paths less than a mile north and south of it, and there are a surprising number of people walking to and from Wal-Mart. Primarily, I grant you, it's an enormous parking lot -- much larger than the large industrial facility where I work -- completely filled with beat-up SUV's, and I mean *completely* filled, but there is always a group of pedestrians on the nearest major corner heading out
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by happyemoticon (543015)

        The town where I grew up in the Peninsula area just south of San Francisco is a little of both. The lower area of the town, which is older, has a higher latino population, and more commercial/industrial zoning (though it is still essentially a bedroom community), is fairly friendly to pedestrians in that there are sidewalks and crosswalks and things. That said, the town is a nightmare to traverse on foot. The grocer down the street was turned into a conveniance store, meaning to get non-ethnic groceries you

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smchris (464899)

        Yes, I noticed the article didn't even mention that the typical suburb probably doesn't _have_ sidewalks. If you're walking, you're the weird guy out walking in the street. And that has to cause social pressure not to be that person doing it in your neighborhood.

        It's even dangerous in snow country where you might not have an unplowed shoulder to walk on and you really would be out with the cars. Probably the closest I've come to dying outside a crosswalk was walking across an overpass where the snowplow
    • by wass (72082)
      Liposuction clinics combined with gas stations You mean, as in using the liposucked fat as fuel for those new-fangled waste-oil-powered automobiles?
    • Another possibility is that the force of habits in transportation methods picked up living in one area is predominant over actual access to places worth getting to by foot in a new area. Perhaps the teens in your study have built a habit of not walking, and would thus remain sedentary and overweight even if they were moved to a more tightly laid out area, as the people in TFA's study did, and people who make a habit of walking would keep doing so to some degree even if they were placed in the burbs.

      I know
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by flyingsquid (813711)
      Anyway, the failure of town planners is going to work out by itself in the end. As oil prices skyrocket & people in the suburbs grow fatter, the solution become obvious. Liposuction clinics combined with gas stations ;-)

      I have an even better idea: instead of gas, we can use biodiesel, made from animal fats provided by those liposuction clinics!

    • 1. About "no brainers", lots of things looked like "no brainers" at various points, and turned up to be false. E.g., at some point it looked like a no brainer that a cannonball twice as heavy falls twice as fast. That's why we still do studies to try to prove or disprove it.

      2. Teenagers and kids pick the bad habbits of their parents, and are fed by their fat parents, so it's not exactly that independent.

      E.g., I can tell you that both me and my brother got to eat a lot of fat and sugar as kids, because that'
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by OS24Ever (245667) *
      This is just my personal experience, but I agree that Sprawl does this based on experience.

      I've lived in Kansas and North Carolina so far. The cities I've lived in have been the 'suburbs' of a much larger city (Lawrence, Overland Park in KS out side of KC and Wake Forest outside of Raleigh in NC) and the nearest thing to my house besides another home is > 2 miles away at a minimum.

      I mean grocery store, whatever kind of thing. Gas, anything.

      However, I get to travel a lot. I've found that when I'm in
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:12PM (#17733276) Journal
    Let me try to sort this out:

    YES, not having to walk around very much will make it more likely you won't get the exercise necessary not to be fat.

    NO, it does not "cause" it (in the sense they want you to take it); you can still make the choice to exercise on your own, irrespective of how much you need to walk in a day for other purposes.

    YES, there's probably a correlation between "how much people in this city have to walk" and "how fat they generally are" that persists after the appropriate controls.

    NO, that's a bad, ad-hoc reason to fix urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is bad because it leads to time-wasting congestion and forces people to have to use cars, which sucks for anyone who can't or doesn't like to drive, and exposes people to the risk of energy price fluctuations unnecessarily. It also contributes to pollution. There, I just made a strong case why sprawl is bad, without resorting to being a health Nazi.

    I'd like to plug my latest joural entry, which describes a way cities could transition gradually to less sprawl, without tedious regulation, government-run services, and invasive control over people's lives. In short: put up tolls heavy enough to clear congestion. This creates the financial incentives necessary for market-driven mass transit, which in turn makes denser development more economical and desirable to live in.
    • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:18PM (#17733340) Homepage Journal
      There, I just made a strong case why sprawl is bad, without resorting to being a health Nazi.

      Obesity in suburbanites is just an additional reason why sprawl is bad, not the reason.

      In short: put up tolls heavy enough to clear congestion. This creates the financial incentives necessary for market-driven mass transit

      Market driven mass transit has been successful nowhere. Transport infrastucture is (or should be) a government problem.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
        Market driven mass transit has been successful nowhere.

        And market pricing of road use appropriate for peak hours has been tried nowhere. (I know, I know. "LA has $20 for tolls in ..." Does the freeway traffic still stop? Okay, then the price wasn't high enough.)

        Transport infrastucture is (or should be) a government problem.

        In some places, it has to be. But it should certainly involve as much entrepreneurialism as possible. The infrastructure for e.g. a train will have to require government somewhere,
      • by doktor-hladnjak (650513) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:25AM (#17734008)
        Market driven mass transit has been successful nowhere.

        That's not necessarily true. Before WWII, there was quite a lot of successful privately run and funded mass transit. The Key System [wikipedia.org] in the Bay Area comes to mind. Unfortunately, at this point it's financially infeasible for any private company to make the investments in infrastructure necessary to run a profitable system like this.

    • by wall0159 (881759)

      >>NO, it does not "cause" it

      That's about as disingenious as saying that cigarettes don't kill people, it's the smoking that does. It might be technically true, but there's certainly a facilitation that's occuring.
  • Not to mention stupid.

    I know some very intelligent, down-to-earth city folk, but I swear most of them live just outside the realm of reality.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pecosdave (536896)
      I'm 260 lbs

      I eat 1 burrito for breakfast, not huge, but small, low grease - chicken no beef, cheese and some garlic on a spinache tortilla.

      For lunch I drink a bottle of mineral water and a V8.

      For dinner I have a noodle bowl.

      My weight is maintained and slowly losing. I walk quite a bit every day at work, and go out of my way to walk extra, lift weights and do some exercise. At this weight I'm stronger, more agile, and have better endurance than many of my coworkers who are obviously in a better height/weig
      • by Turn-X Alphonse (789240) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:30AM (#17735146) Journal
        "I eat complete shit, but he eats more shit than me, so I'm better!"

        If you seriously eat what you listed then not only do you need to develope tastebuds but you also need to learn what good healthy food is. Cheese and chicken, water and noodles isn't good for you. You need a balanced diet where vegetables arn't dried and devoid of flavour.

        Do yourself a favour and try cooking a proper meat and two veg meal daily, the crap you're eating is too much junk for anyone to ever be proud of eating.
  • So far, the dozen strong studies that have probed the relationships among the urban environment, people's activity, and obesity have all agreed, says Ewing. 'Sprawling places have heavier people...

    Ah, a positive correlation between urban sprawl and gluteal sprawl. I wonder what the formula for that would look like.
  • if the distances are not practically tractable on foot, people will use cars more often than their feet.

    you use cars and you move less with your body.. you get fat..
  • one solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by edwardpickman (965122)
    Put treadmills in the doorways of all the McDonalds. The treadmill won't shut off until you've burned up all the calories you just ate. On top of prices they can list minutes required on the menu to burn off the calories. Instead of worrying about calories people will worry if they have the time to eat a large fries.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by recursiv (324497)
      So what exactly would be the purpose of eating? If you had to burn every calorie you consumed right after you consumed it, you would die sooner than later. The purpose of eating is calorie intake.
  • Sprawl? No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Metzli (184903) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:23PM (#17733390)
    Sprawl didn't make me fat. Eating more calories than I burn made me fat.
    • Re:Sprawl? No. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Fastball (91927) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @01:23AM (#17734474) Journal
      I used to live in Lexington, KY. While you wouldn't call it urban, it isn't sprawling either. I'm an avid cyclist, and I lived a couple blocks from downtown in the Chevy Chase area. Lovely. Great location. Why? Because I could be on my bike, out the driveway, and into the countryside in under five miles. I walked a mile to work. As of April of last year, I was down 10 lbs. from my regular weight, and I wasn't even trying. It was every day life that afforded me the ability to burn those calories.

      Now, I live in the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati area. Talk about sprawl. There's no riding out my driveway and out into the countryside without a trunk rack and a minimum 10-minute drive away from the 'burbs. I'm just off KY18, a freeway of certain death for a cyclist. I'd sooner enter a competitive eating contest than venture out onto KY18 and get aced. I'm 10 lbs. overweight now: a 20 lbs. swing in the last nine months.

      Point is, in the 'burbs, everyday life no longer suits a fit lifestyle.
  • I used to live in downtown Seattle and didn't own a car. I walked a ~1 mile to the nearest Safeway and 5 blocks to my bus stop. Plus there were walks to restaurants or the mall. If you have that kind of lifestyle, it's pretty hard to become obese unless you really, really try. Furthermore, suburbanites usually commute quite a ways to work. Depending on where you live, this commute can take a substantial chunk out of your day. This lost time means a.)you're more likely to eat a quick, unhealthy meal b.)fin
    • by Belial6 (794905)
      I lived for 3 years without ever starting the crappy car I did own. I walked to work. I walked to the grociery store. I walked for everything I did. Guess what? I was still fat. Being fat has a lot more to do with genetics than with exercise. This is well known. Those that come from lean genetic lines, like to pay the 'your fat because your a bad person card', but it is utter BS.

      How could teenagers who don't get a choice in where they live, have higher rates of obesity than those in the city? Ea
      • Re:Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Jeffrey Baker (6191) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:08AM (#17733876)
        Yeah, fat genes. Good one. There is no such thing. If there were such a thing, we could breed a race of superfat humans who can exercise constantly and still gain weight. Second law, eat your heart out!

        The kids are fat because their parents are fat and the whole household eats chicken fried steak and gravy on a bed of iceberg lettuce covered with Kraft Singles and ranch dressing. And the little lard buckets take a car to school and back and play Nofreindo when they are at home.

        Humans are incredible walking machines. We have a higher endurance than any other land mammal. We are built to walk and walk and walk some more. When a human doesn't walk, they get fat. It's a pretty simple system.

        I'm sorry to hear that you hate real cities. I know that culture and the arts can be a pain in the ass and are best eradicated. And I hate having to see all those interesting people all over the place. Man, I wish I could move back to Midwest City so I could drive everywhere and never interact with anybody.
  • Nope, suburbanization is only a symptom. Automobiles and poor diet are the root cause of the recent trend toward obesity. They work most effectively when combined for a quick trip through the drive-through of the local burger joint. The widespread adoption of automobiles following World War Two allowed developers to build large suburban housing tracts that would have been far to isolated if the population had to rely on lengthy trips by public transportation. Once people moved into suburbia, they were too i
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pecosdave (536896)
      Uhmm Sprawl and Automobile have a self perpetuating cause and effect relationship. More of one cases more of the other with our current mindset.
  • by Y-Crate (540566) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:26PM (#17733426)
    In many sprawling communities, walking past the driveway/subdivision is asking to die.

    That's not hyperbole, but a basic consequence of planning that is downright hostile to anyone who isn't behind the wheel of a car. I don't believe cars should be eliminated, but car-dependance is a truly awful thing that I'm glad that I've been able to break free of...but I don't know for how long. The attitude of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority isn't friendly to mass transit. In the words of their last General Manager "the automobile won" and light rail is obsolete. Buses are the future, apparently. In the last few decades, automobile registrations in Boston have tripled as rail lines have been shut down or cut back dramatically in favor of surprise bustitution that suddenly becomes permanent.

    It's depressing enough to see a new cookie-cutter car-dependant community rise up where a forest used to be, but it's even worse when a city with an excellent transit system that encourages people to ride the train then walk decides that it wants to be just like PinePointeAutumnPreserveRegistryReserveGrove Habitation Area #49485776893-B and compel people to pick up the bad habits of the suburbs.
  • Yes indeed it does, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pecosdave (536896) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:26PM (#17733432) Homepage Journal
    that and civic design. Here in Houston I challenge you to ride a bike from point A to point B. There are no sidewalks, no back roads that go through, no bike lanes, what bike lanes that do exist are right next to fast moving over sized commercial loads that reguard that as a "vehicle sprawl" lane. Figure in unstable buisness environments that virtually guarantee that if you move close enough to work to walk/bike you will lose your job and be forced to work forty miles away.

    When I lived in Phoenix, I rode my bike everywhere. Now that I live in Houston (one of the most sprawled cities in existance) I have gained massive amounts of weight, and regularly commuted 3+ hours a day.
    • When I lived in Phoenix, I rode my bike everywhere. Now that I live in Houston (one of the most sprawled cities in existance) I have gained massive amounts of weight, and regularly commuted 3+ hours a day.

      I certainly agree that civic design (proper sidewalks, running trails, bike lanes, etc.) is an important and inexpensive part of any city. I also agree that Houston is a huge city, by any standard. However, it is not the ideal example of urban sprawl, as Houston basically just encompasses what would be s

  • I want to highlight two points, the first an observation about my own circumstances, the second a "law" of beauty.

    1) I am currently in grad school in rural Indiana. Prior to that I was in undergrad in downtown Chicago. While I live about the same distance from school here as I did in Chicago, I cannot walk here. My fiance and familly have all taken the time to not just how much weight I've put on in just a year. Still eating about the same.. never went out of my way to exercise in Chicago.. but there you

    • As far as "hills" go - this is simply an impression, but hills account for differences in body shape that transcend even socioeconomic status. We associate obesity with the lower classes, but even in those societies where the hills are occupied by the poor (as in the favelas in Brazil and in other Latin American regions) those hill-dwellers seem to be in better shape.
  • I'll start with an apology or disclaimer: I don't remember the exact sources I am referring to, though they appeared to be statistically relevant and thoroughly conducted. That said, I have to point out that the results of at least a couple of studies have questioned whether "urban sprawl" really even exists. You see, it may be obvious that suburban development may indeed be moving into what were previously rural areas. However, it is also apparent that urban areas of high population density and intense ind
  • This is obviously because in a city there are many things to do and in suburbia there are many television shows to watch. Here's another one: if you live in a city, many things are a short walk away (that's the whole point), whereas in suburbia, you're hopping in the car and sitting on your ass for the duration of almost any trip, and your sitting on your couch otherwise.

    It's not rocket science: "Oh, God. We think there is a real pattern here. When people live within walking distance of interesting p

  • by B4RSK (626870) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:45PM (#17733640)
    Losing weight is incredibly simple. The entire topic can be covered in 4 words: Eat less, exercise more.

    Not surprisingly people become ugly fat porkers because they don't follow that simple four word formula.

    (This isn't self-righteous spew -- I need to lose about 20kg to be at my optimal weight. At least I know the only person I have to blame is myself.)
    • by Firethorn (177587)
      And it's a lot like quiting smoking...

      Sure, 'Stop buying cigarettes' is only three words. 'Stop using tobacco'.

      I'm about 20 pounds over my 'ideal' weight. However, to try to get there requires restricting my diet to an extreme point and results in my body doing the whole slowdown thing to make it even harder and me feel like crud.

      Hopefully they'll come up with a pill to fix that someday.
    • by PCM2 (4486)
      Losing weight is incredibly simple ... (This isn't self-righteous spew -- I need to lose about 20kg to be at my optimal weight. At least I know the only person I have to blame is myself.)

      No offense, but maybe you'd sound less self-righteous if you started talking after you lost the weight. Until then, it kinda sounds like you literally don't know what you're talking about.

    • by porcupine8 (816071) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:10AM (#17733894) Journal
      Well, of course it is. But it's a lot easier to do that if you live in a place where you can walk to work or the grocery store in 15 min, as opposed to living in a place where you have to drive an hour to work and an hour back every day - not only do you lose that half hour of walking you would have gotten in the city, that's also two hours less you have available for cooking a healthy meal and exercising. It's a lot easier to get enough exercise if you can do it *on the way* to other things you have to do, rather than having to put time aside for it.

      So, yes, eating less and exercising more is how you lose weight. It's just that that's often a lot easier in the city than the suburbs.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday January 23, 2007 @11:47PM (#17733662) Homepage
    We all generally EAT TOO MUCH! Our guts are too big and so our hunger satisfaction signal is delayed. Working out and being active is good and all, but that's not the biggest part of what's wrong. It's WHAT we eat and how much of it we eat. That's why these stomach stapling operations are so remarkably effective. It's clearly not that these people have been working out too little, but that they have been eating too much. The solution is most simple and direct.

    EAT LESS.

    I'm kind of over-weight myself... I'm working on it... sorta. I never claimed the answer would be easy... I'm just identifying the problem for what it really is. Working out and being more active to "compensate" for the enormous amount of food we take in doesn't leave much time with family, friends or work. It's nearly impossible to work out enough to compensate for the diets most of us indulge in... just eat less.
    • by Tim (686) <timr@NoSpam.alumni.washington.edu> on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @02:31AM (#17734860) Homepage
      "We all generally EAT TOO MUCH! Our guts are too big and so our hunger satisfaction signal is delayed. Working out and being active is good and all, but that's not the biggest part of what's wrong. It's WHAT we eat and how much of it we eat."

      Actually, any doctor, physiologist or nutritionist will tell you that the problem has two parts: we don't exercise enough, and we eat too much. Both problems are equally important, and it's actually a far better idea to increase your activity than to drastically cut your caloric intake (if you're forced to choose). It's best to do both.

      If you live a sedentary lifestyle but drastically cut calories, your body will eventually "decide" that you are starving, and will slow your metabolic rate to compensate (amongst other changes, such as the increase in serum cortisol levels, and the activation of lipid storage enzymes -- which essentially means that you'll begin to destroy muscle, in favor of preserving fat). This is why conventional diets do not work -- most people simply lose muscle mass (and/or water weight), eventually tire of starving themselves, and baloon back up to their pre-diet weight, with a lower lean body mass as a reward.

      So, while the Big Mac culture is certainly a problem in the US, the only way to battle obesity in the long term is to encourage exercise. Dietary changes alone will not work.
  • At least, that was the experience of a friend of mine. He gained weight when he moved from a city to a small town. The reason he gave was this: When in the city, he had to walk to the station, and then walk from the city station to the office. Even if he drove his car, it was still a small hike from the car park to the office. When he moved, he drove to work, and parked mere meters from his office chair, in which he was to remain all day. There is nothing so simple, is there?
  • by PHAEDRU5 (213667) <(instascreed) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:01AM (#17733794) Homepage
    Hello! Inspiration for patterns! Gang of four! "A Pattern Language"? "The Timeless Way of Building"? Hello? Anyone out there?

    Sorry. I got snotty ther efor a moment. One of the points of his books is that modern bureaucracy specifies building codes that demand the end results this study sees. It's been out there for decades at this point. How sad.
  • Who cares. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jartan (219704) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:08AM (#17733864)
    It's not the sprawl it's the transportation system. Lots of other countries have urban sprawl but the fact that people often use public transportation leads to them walking a lot more to get from the train stop to wherever they are going. In the US in almost every city the entire road system is built on the premise that you have a car and that you will drive directly from your garage straight to the parking lot of wherever you are going and do almost no walking at all.

    Why do we need to do a study on this though? It's useless information. We know the basic gist of why people get fat. The human body wants to store energy in case of emergency and runs itself on the premise of conserving energy when energy intake gets low. Thus the only real way to keep a fit body is exertion and a decent intake of calories. Instead of worrying about ways to cause people to exert themselves more how about we spend our money on real solutions like fixing the human body so it doesn't have to operate in a prehistoric fashion.
  • by dschl (57168) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:12AM (#17733908) Homepage

    One site I check every few months is the Victoria Transit Policy Institure [vtpi.org]. They have a lot of resources on sustainable transportation policy. When I watched my previous employer start paying for additional parking spots for new employees, I looked to VTPI for information on parking cash out. Cash out is an incentive program to not drive - if it costs the company $30/month for a parking spot, cash out programs pay employees the savings from not providing a parking spot. This encourages people to bus and bike to work. In my case, the employer wasn't interested, one of many reasons I no longer work there, but that's another story.

    When I read the title of this article, I immediately though of VTPI. There is actually a PDF cowritten by Lawrence Frank which is listed on the VTPI main page, which is available from Smart Growth BC. Lawrence Frank is mentioned in TFA, and several of his studies are linked at the bottom. The Smart Growth BC PDF did not appear to be in the list of links at the bottom of the TFA at Science News Online. The PDF is 52 pages long, and is titled Promoting Public Health Through Smart Growth [smartgrowth.bc.ca] (also an HTML version from Google cache [72.14.253.104] to avoid melting down Smart Growth BC's server). It's more about how to design your cities properly, to avoid the health issues cited in TFA. From the preface to the PDF:

    This report explains how our built environment shapes our transportation choices, and in turn, human health. It reviews the existing research for a range of transportation-related health impacts on seven public health outcomes: Physical Activity and Obesity, Air Quality, Traffic Safety, Noise, Water Quality, Mental Health, and Social Capital.
    I enjoy most of the information on the VTPI site, but then again, for me, they're mostly preaching to the converted. I'd rather relax and read on the bus for an hour, or enjoy a 1 hour bike ride to work than fight rush hour traffic in a car for a half hour.
  • by failedlogic (627314) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @12:52AM (#17734248)
    I'm a quite disappointed, if true that kids are overweight in suburbia. There's plenty of oppotunity: large parks to play in (which is free!) and at least where I live there are some local wooded trails. I've been biking, jogging and walking through those trails for some time now. One observation though is that most people using the parks have a dog. That might be one link.

    But more than anything, people have to stop driving all over the place. One has to do with sheer laziness. Something the kids learn. I should feel safe walking on the streets (a question of coverage of sidewalks and not havng to cross major thorough fares with crazy drivers trying to run me over.

    The big thing, IMO from stopping the laziness: big box stores. And its where a lot of people shop. In most of the communities I've observed in Ontario, Quebec, and NE U.S., the bix box stores tend to be at the outermost edges of the suburban areas. No easily accessible side walks, public transit. Its all poor city planing.

    As an example, this summer, I decided I was going to go to shop at a big box store. The store is no more than 15 minutes each way walk. At least figuratively when you take the main road and drive over. But it was a nice day. So I walk for 10 minutes. I figure a shortcut/pathway I could take would surely lead to the store. Nope, city didn't build em. So I ended up taking the only way there. detour. Took an extra 10 minutes each way. Yeah, I drive now.
  • by Bjarke Roune (107212) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @01:18AM (#17734454) Homepage
    I come from Denmark but am staying in Minneapolis for a year. In Denmark you can walk to a nearby mall or at least a well-stocked convenience store pretty much no-matter where you live if you do not live too far from the central city. Where I live in Denmark I can *walk* to *everything* I need to do on a regular basis, and everything else is within convinient biking or bus distance. I don't have a car and I would have a use for a driver's license maybe once a year (when living in Denmark, that is).

    Now, in Minneapolis, practically nothing is within walking distance no matter where you live and the bus system is an absolute pain to figure out even using their online planner. Not having a car around here is a serious social handicap, and it makes shopping a taxing experience, because everything is spread out within a huge area. I can't help but conclude that people around here actually *enjoy* spending alot of time in their cars, so that distance is an advantage to them.

    Other than that, this is a very nice place, but for people who live here permanently, not having a car is simply not a workable option.
  • by Kohath (38547) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @01:34AM (#17734540)
    Does sprawl make us fat?

    I guess it depends on how much sprawl you eat.

    A better question: If part of my body sprawls, am I fat?
  • by mc6809e (214243) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @02:56AM (#17734984)
    In the US, local commerce is rigidly controlled through zoning laws. It would be nice to have a neighborhood store, or set of shops, etc, but most local governments don't allow mixing commercial areas with residential.

    It's simply against the law.

    Land of the free, my ass.
  • by MCTFB (863774) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:17AM (#17735088)
    Of course walking up several flights of stairs because you live in a big city, or havin to bike several miles a day to work, or having to walk a mile to get some groceries at the corner store is going to burn more calories than sitting at home, but forcing everyone to live this kind of lifestyle is a bit Maoist if you ask me. I mean, if you have arthritis or asthma, or a heart condition then I guess you are SOL.

    If you do live in a community that lacks parks, trails, or sidewalks/roads you can safely jog on, you don't even need a stairmaster or stationary bike to stay fit. All you need is the discipline to do basic resistance exercises every day. Just a quick intense workout when you wake up in the morning, and you will find it hard to get fat. Pushups, situps/crunches, dips, squats, etc. without weights but done in an explosive fashion will burn a lot of calories very fast and keep your muscles toned as well. You don't need to run 10 miles or do aerobics for an hour to burn a lot of calories if you are know that anaerobic exercise is about 8 times less efficient in calorie usage as aerobic exercise. What this essentially means is that anaerobic exercise will burn calories 8 times faster than aerobic exercise.

    Of course, you could just lift weights for 10-15 minutes a day like I do, but if you don't have the space or the money to afford free weights, do the next best thing and do the basics to keep fit. It doesn't take a lot of time, just the discipline to make it part of your daily routine as if it was as core to your day as brushing your teeth.
  • Venice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nuffsaid (855987) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @03:58AM (#17735310)
    I live in a city that can be defined as the opposite of sprawl: Venice (Venezia), Italy. Buildings here are closer one to another than any place I know of. Some "calli" (pedestrian passages) are as narrow as half meter. Cars just don't enter the city beyond the parkings at the end of the bridge that connects it to the mainland, and even bikes are not allowed. You just walk. Every time your way intersects a canal, you have to go up and down the steps of a bridge. Because of the high density, the time spent moving from place to place in everyday business is not different from that in car-only cities. Remove the time spent looking for a parking place (a big problem in most Italian cities) and you have a net time advantage. You don't see many obese people in Venice and even elders citizens tend to be healthier than in other places. People meet and talk in the streets. Goods travel almost exclusively on water, on a network that is completely separate from that of persons. One of the downsides is a very uncomfortable environment for disabled people: wheelchairs weren't an option when the city was built!
  • Fear makes us fat (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BearRanger (945122) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @04:03AM (#17735350)
    In the U.S. at least. We're afraid of crime and/or minorities and so we move further out to be away from them. We're afraid our kids will be abducted or abused so we drive them to the bus stop so that they can go to school, even though the bus stop is just a few blocks from our home. We then sit there with the engine running and the doors locked until the kids board the bus, and drive back home. Kids can't be allowed to play on their own, we have to constantly watch them if they want to go to the park. But thanks to our commute back and forth to work we don't have time to actually supervise them. So we forbid them to go out after school and leave them at home in front of the television or with their game consoles. Not to mention their sugary snacks and processed foods. Commuting parents often don't have time to actually prepare food from scratch.

    Fear is the driving force behind sprawl, and fear sets the pattern for our sedentary lifestyles. It's our fears that make us fat.

    As a culture we need to get over it.
  • by dindi (78034) on Wednesday January 24, 2007 @07:44AM (#17736368) Homepage
    As opposed to most cities where you can take a long walk, use public transport + walk, you have a better chance getting "natural excercise" by the day, just walking.

    Now look at small towns, where nothing is walking distance, and there are no sidewalks. You are forced to drive your car and you will move a lot less naturally, unless you go on a hike on the weekend or go to the gym. In cities many choose alternative transport, such as bicycles, while on highways you are not even allowed to ride a bike.

    But no walking.

    I moved out of the city, where I used to walk 5+ km a day, just commuting. Now I am a car potato, or ride a motorbike when weather allows and no formal dressing is required.

    Other thing: I seem to see a lot more fat people in small towns and the countryside, and right now visiting the US it seems the same here.

    Well just my 2c, I moved a lot more on foot/bicycle when I lived in the big city.

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