People in the study who lived in the most walkable neighborhoods weighed an
average of 8 pounds less than people who lived in the least walkable areas.
Neighborhoods built before 1950 tended to have sidewalks and other
characteristics that made them more accessible to pedestrians, including being
more densely populated and having restaurants and other businesses nearby, lead
researcher Ken R. Smith, PhD, tells WebMD.
In general, newer neighborhoods offered fewer opportunities for walking.
The study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of
“We aren’t saying the move from older to newer neighborhoods is the cause of
the obesity epidemic, but it may be a factor,” Smith says.
Walk Less, Weigh More
In an effort to test the theory, Smith and colleagues calculated the body
mass index (BMI) of 453,927 residents of Salt Lake County, Utah, using height
and weight data from their driver’s license applications. Adults between the
ages of 25 and 64 were included in the analysis.
The researchers also reviewed census data that included information about
the neighborhoods where the residents lived.
In general, the research suggested that the more walkable a neighborhood
was, the less likely its residents were to become overweight or obese.
Based upon the analysis, a man of average height and weight who lived in the
most walkable neighborhood in Salt Lake County would be expected to weigh an
average of 10 pounds less than a man living in the least walkable neighborhood.
For women, the difference would be 6 pounds.
Smith says the growing emphasis on designing pedestrian-friendly places for
people to live, work, and play could have a large, positive impact on health in
He cites a recent report from the Brookings Institution predicting that by
the year 2030 half the buildings in the United States will have been built
“That represents a huge opportunity to think about how we are building our
communities and to make them better places, both from a health and an
environmental standpoint,” he says.