WASHINGTON — People who live in neighborhoods where they
must drive to get anywhere are significantly more likely to
be obese than those who can easily walk to their destinations,
according to the first study to directly demonstrate that long-suspected
The study of nearly 11,000 people in the Atlanta area found
that people living in highly residential areas tend to weigh
significantly more than those in places where homes and businesses
are close together.
The effect appeared to be largely the result of the amount
of time people spend driving or walking. Each hour spent in
a car was associated with a 6 percent increase in the likelihood
of obesity and each half-mile walked per day reduced those
odds by nearly 5 percent, the researchers found.
The kind of neighborhood where a person lives clearly has an
effect on their health,” said Lawrence D. Frank, an associate
professor of community and regional planning at the University
of British Columbia, who led the study. The findings have national
implications because the neighborhoods studied are representative
of those across the country, Frank said.
These findings are clearly the strongest evidence to date that
there’s a link between the built environment and obesity,” Frank
As the number of people who are overweight and obese has
reached epidemic proportions in the United States, evidence
that one of the main causes might be suburban sprawl. Such
neighborhoods make walking or other kinds of exercise more
difficult because they often lack sidewalks, road patterns
that encourage travel on foot, or shopping areas that are
accessible without cars.