Wednesday, February 16, 2005

urban design and obesity

one of the topics I read way too much about is the rampant obesity in america. my family has always been a little obsessed with food, nutrition and health - a combination of our jewish cultural heritage (which places a heavy emphasis on food for family gatherings, holidays, celebrations, funerals, etc) and american neurosis about body image. it makes for a complex relationship to the pleasure/guilt dichotomy associated with eating. but I never thought there was any relationship between my interest in food and my interest in design. an article this week in the seattle post intelligencer, reprinted in a listserve from the project for public spaces on kid's obesity, looks at the relationship between obesity and built environments.

with health experts recommending we get about 90 minutes of physical activity a day, and most people scratching their heads, wondering how to fit that into an already hectic lifestyle, researchers in Atlanta, Vancouver and the CDC are looking at how encouraging walkability in the built environment may help accomplish that goal. as one study found:

an important new study that shows Atlanta residents who live in the most walkable neighborhoods are 2 1/2 times more likely to be physically active than Atlantans who live in the least walkable areas. If a neighborhood even jumped one level in the study's walkability index, it translated to a 30 percent increase in people who were classified as active. The study was published in the Feb. 9 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

for many at the CDC, the hope is that rather than promoting short-term wellness initiatives, making communities more walkable - which for suburbs may mean more sidewalks, for urban areas safer streets - will lead to long-term benefits. with obesity rates in the US reaching epidemic proportions (not just for kids, but for adults as well) its clear that the CDC and other vested interests (health care, govt, education) need to think about alternatives to combat some of the ingrained lifestyle habits that lead to obesity - sedentary lifestyles, fast food, an emphasis on quantity over quality for our food. tying obesity to urban design seems to be a good start.


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