Age Of Neighborhood Correlated To Obesity
    By News Staff | July 29th 2008 12:00 AM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    The age of your housing plan may influence your risk of obesity, according to a new study from the University of Utah. Neighborhoods built before 1950 tend to offer greater overall walkability as they more often were designed with the pedestrian in mind, while newer neighborhoods often were designed to facilitate car travel.

    The study in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, linked the body mass index (BMI) of nearly a half million Salt Lake County residents to 2000 Census data. The study found that residents were at less risk of being obese or overweight if they lived in walkable neighborhoods; more densely populated, more friendly to pedestrians and have a range of destinations for pedestrians.

    Demographer Ken Smith, co-author of the study and professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, says that although individuals clearly make personal decisions that influence their weight, neighborhood characteristics also play a potentially important role in affecting residents' risk of obesity.

    "It is difficult for individuals to change their behavior," he says, "but we can build environments that promote healthy behavior."

    Using height and weight data collected by the Driver License Division of the Utah Department of Public Safety, Smith and colleagues calculated the BMI of 453,927 Salt Lake County residents age 25 to 64, linking it to census-block groups via geographical coordinates. To protect confidentiality, all personal information from the Driver License Division was removed before the data were provided to the researchers. The study was approved by the University of Utah Institutional Review Board.

    The study found that a man of average height and weight (6 feet, 200 pounds) weighed 10 pounds less if he lived in a walkable neighborhood versus a less walkable neighborhood. A woman of average size (about 5-foot-5, 149 pounds), weighed six pounds less.

    "The data show that how and where we live can greatly affect our health," says Smith.

    According to the study, during 2003-2004 roughly 70 percent of men and 61 percent of women in the U.S. were overweight. The study also notes that by 2030, about half the buildings in the U.S. will have been built since 2000. How this growth occurs will have a significant impact on the environment and on the health of the people living in it, Smith says.

    "We have the opportunity, using evidence-based data on community design, to create neighborhoods that encourage less car driving, benefiting residents' health and wallets and shrinking our own carbon footprint," says Smith.

    Neighborhoods with higher percentages of pedestrian traffic—something the study found is associated with less obesity among residents—can serve as models for future residential development and redevelopment. "Neighborhoods with higher fractions of residents that walk to work tell us that something beneficial about the neighborhood is promoting health," notes Smith.

    "We expect these results mean that residents find walking more attractive and enjoyable where there are other walkers, a variety of destinations easily accessible by foot and pedestrian-friendly street networks. People want to walk when it's pleasant, convenient and when there is a destination."

    Smith conducted the study with three other University of Utah professors of family and consumer studies—Barbara Brown, Cathleen D. Zick and Jessie X. Fan—and one assistant professor, Lori Kowaleski-Jones, along with Ikuho Yamada, assistant professor of geography.


    I think this study lacks validity unless it adjusted for age distribution. Younger people tend to be more fit and tend to live in neighborhoods where there are lots of things happening. As this article is written, I'm not so sure that the neighborhood is making the people fit - it could just as easily be concluded that young/fit people are attracted to these types of neighborhoods.

    Way to go. Now all the morbidly obese people can't blame poor diet and lack of exercise: it's the neighborhood that makes them fat.

    This will come in very handy if I move to Utah.

    The study found correlation between obesity and age of neighborhood. This entire article just assumes causation, the author even seems to be going out of their way to push the neighborhood causes obesity direction of causation.

    Wouldn't any sane person assume that lifestyle and socioeconomic status, the two biggest actual causes of obesity would also influence the age of the neighborhood you lived in?

    It seems like common sense that there is not one sole direction of causation between these two factors. "Scientific blogging" my ass.

    The title is "Age Of Neighborhood Correlated To Obesity" - causation is not mentioned. No one, including the study authors, said that neighborhoods make people fat. Clearly only consuming more calories than one burns can do that.

    They did say that neighborhoods that were older and more pedestrian-oriented had fewer obese people but they did not control for all other factors; namely that obese people may simply choose to not live in places where they will need to walk a lot.

    Hank made a good point that the article never claimed causation. But why write an article that shows correlation, but not causation? Correlation is useless information, unless you are a scientist and you will use that information to inspire you to develop a new experiment that may lead to proving causation. If anything, correlation is harmful information to the lay person, because it can be misinterpreted as causitive.

    Anyway, there is very strong scientific evidence already pointing to the cause of obesity. An overabundance of insulin in the blood stream promotes the growth of fat tissue and inhibits the break-down of fat tissue for usable energy. And carbohydrates (especially refined carbs and sugar) stimulates the secretion of insulin. Hence, eating a lot of carbohydrates causes weight gain. All of the evidence is layed out in the excellent book "Good Calories, Bad Calories".

    Average women are 5'5" and 150lbs?

    Seems awfully chunky to me.

    I guess you've never been to Utah.