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More Urban Sprawl Means More Weight Gain

Residents of Sprawling Areas Exercise Less, Gain More Weight

WebMD Health News

Aug. 28, 2003 -- Pay extra attention to your health if you live in a sprawling area. Residents in these counties gain more weight, walk less, and have more high blood pressure than people in more compact counties.

Simply put, researchers say there is just poor accessibility in these areas and nothing is within easy walking distance of anything else. As a result, people in compact counties walked 80 minutes more each month and weighed about six pounds less than residents of sprawling counties, researchers write. The findings appear in The Science of Health Promotion.

Best, Worst Counties

The most compact counties in the U.S. include:

  • New York city boroughs
  • San Francisco County
  • Hudson County in New Jersey

The highest levels of sprawl in the U.S. include:

  • Goochland County, Richmond, Va.
  • Geauga County, near Cleveland, Ohio

But a different group of researchers at University of North Carolina may have a solution. They say more trails, streetlights, and places where people can be more physically active will give people outlets to exercise more.

Their report is part of a project investigating the link between community and neighborhood design and health. It appears in the recent issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

To prove their point, researchers conducted phone interviews with nearly 2,000 randomly selected adults in six counties. They asked them more than 100 questions about their neighborhoods and environmental surroundings.

Results showed that 75% of those surveyed had engaged in some leisure time physical activity during the past month and 25% had done the recommended level of exercise -- moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes five times a week or vigorous-intensity activity for at least 20 minutes three times a week. People said they were more likely to exercise if they had neighborhood trails and streetlights.

Call for a Change

Safety proved to be a factor. American Indian and black respondents were more likely than whites to say their neighborhood was slightly or not at all safe. They were also less likely to report having access to sidewalks or places to exercise. Women also said they had less access to places to work out.

Access to the number of places for physical activity and trails increased with the affluence of the neighborhood.

These are all big signs that neighborhoods need changing, especially as Americans continue to gain weight, researchers say. "Our primary call to action is that we can create communities that encourage and support health-promoting behavior," says Richard Killingsworth, guest editor of the American Journal of Health Promotion, in a news release.

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