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June 21, 2003
Cities Made for Walking May Be Fat Burners
By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
WASHINGTON, June 20 — Does living in the suburbs make you fat?
Probably, say several urban planners, architects and researchers who are studying how the design of communities affects human health. The reason, they say, is that people have to drive everywhere.
"We're not at the point now that we know that sprawl makes you fat," said Lawrence D. Frank, associate professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia. "But if you choose to live in a sprawling environment, you are more likely to be overweight."
Mr. Frank was an author of a new study that set out to answer this question: "If we make places more walkable — denser, more mixed-use, more pedestrian-friendly and more interconnected — do people in fact walk more, and if they walk more, are they healthier?"
With responses from 12,000 people, the authors determined that people who live in areas of low-building density (read: suburbs) tend to weigh more than people in higher-density, mixed-use areas (read: cities), even accounting for income, age, sex and ethnicity.
In Atlanta, at the lowest-density levels 68 percent of white men were overweight; at the highest-density levels, 50 percent were overweight. At the lowest density, 23 percent were obese; at the highest levels, 13 percent were obese.
The study found the same pattern for white women and black men, but did not survey enough black women to determine if it held for them.
Mr. Frank discussed his survey on Thursday here at a conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a movement that advocates more mass transit and pedestrian-friendly development. The movement's critics say the new urbanists are liberal, elite suburb-bashers who want government to control how and where everyone lives.
Mr. Frank's colleagues at the conference agreed that his findings were important for supporting a long-held perception.
"The research is validating something that I've long observed when I've been in cities, which is that you see a lot of slender people," said Peter Katz, a marketing consultant and real estate developer from Alexandria, Va. "You go out to the heartland, the middle of America, the small towns and suburban areas, you see a lot of obese people."
An estimated 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese.
Daniel Solomon, an architect from San Francisco, said that Mr. Katz's observations were true wherever suburbs were sprouting. Mr. Solomon pointed to Shanghai and Beijing, where people walk and ride bicycles, but said that those cities' new suburbs, where people drive more, had high rates of diabetes and obesity.
As a result, he said, parents are taking a stern approach to combatting obesity in their children.
"There are ads now on Beijing television for summer camps modeled on World War II Japanese concentration camps," Mr. Solomon said. "Middle-class parents send their obese children to be disciplined by guards dressed in Japanese World War II uniforms."
In the United States, the planners said, the cities most suitable for walking are Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Those least friendly for walking, Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix, are the lowest-density cities, with high rates of diabetes and obesity.
But not everyone buys the idea that environmental sprawl is responsible for sprawling waistlines. Ron Utt, a housing and transportation analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said the theory "has a touch of intuitive credibility, but you're fat for a lot of reasons, like the fact that you don't do laundry by hand anymore."
"The heaviest people," Mr. Utt added, live in urban public housing.
"They are living in Congress of New Urbanism nirvana, with small apartments, small land use, taking public transit," Mr. Utt said, "but they tend to be significantly overweight. Your weight has less to do with housing than with a sedentary life, more people making their living not doing any kind of physical labor, and our recreation options are sedentary — VCR's and DVD's have eliminated the need even to go to a movie theater."
Other factors complicate the picture as well. For example, cities may force a person to walk more and become slimmer. But cities can also trap pollution from cars, making cities extremely unhealthy, especially for people with asthma.
Still, Mr. Frank's findings could hold useful implications for urban planning and for how people think about where they want to live.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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New Yorkers are good at riding the subways without holding on - great workout for the abs.
And the legs.
I also like going down to Chinatown Fair on Mott St. to play DDR—you can work up quite a sweat in about 10 minutes, and it's fun too.
Have you ever seen the legs on the girls in San Francisco?
Are they sinewy?
I like sinewy.
I was talking about proportions, man.
Like a good skyscraper.
Such an evocative simile.
September 4, 2003
As Suburbs Grow, So Do Waistlines
By BRADFORD McKEE
NO PLACE TO GO Maria Witt, 29, pushes Jack, one of her triplets, down a cul-de-sac in front of her Chantilly, Va., home. New studies assess the impact of car culture on health.
TWO years ago, Jason and Maria Witt moved here, to the western suburbs of Washington, and fell in love with their 1970's subdivision, Poplar Tree Estates. The Witts bought a 4,800-square-foot house in which they are raising three boys, 8-month-old triplets. They have quiet streets and big lawns. What they do not have is an easy way to walk, as they once did when they lived in Manhattan.
"We can't walk anywhere from our house," said Mrs. Witt, 29, sitting in their large, skylighted sunroom. The nearest park is close by but too small for meaningful exercise. She's had to resort to an elliptical trainer to work off the 75 pounds she gained during her pregnancy.
And if she and her husband want to get their exercise by shopping or running errands, they have to pack the babies into their Chevrolet Suburban and drive two miles to the Greenbriar Town Center.
The suburban paradox the Witts describe — landed comfort but near-total car dependency — is the subject of a growing debate across the disciplines of public health and urban planning: Is the American suburb, originally conceived as a relaxing alternative to the city, now a contributor to medical problems from obesity to depression and high blood pressure?
A wave of new research on sprawl's effect on health emerged last Thursday when two journals, the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Health Promotion, jointly released special issues on the subject that indicate a significant connection between sprawl and obesity and between sprawl and hypertension.
The number of miles Americans travel on the roads has doubled since 1963, according to Richard J. Jackson, an environmental epidemiologist and the director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. (He was also the guest editor of the special issue of the American Journal of Public Health.) The number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has doubled in the last 25 years — the average 11-year-old today weighs 11 pounds more than in 1973. Nearly 65 percent of American adults are now overweight, and the incidence of diabetes doubled between 1980 and 2000, to 12 million cases.
James Robins, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health, has read news reports of the sprawl research. "This seems so far from what people would take as strong scientific evidence or a direct causal link," he said.
"I doubt that these are going to be considered earth-shaking articles in the profession," he said. "But they're very useful for generating interesting hypotheses."
While urban planners tend to discuss the suburbs in quality-of-life terms, researchers increasingly use clinical measures like anxiety, depression and substance abuse. The number of prescriptions for antidepressants has increased remarkably, a point Dr. Jackson makes to suggest that although the suburbs were built for convenience, they may also have wrought their share of frustration by placing life's staples a long drive from home.
People in many suburban neighborhoods find that the streets they live on practically invite them to stay in their cars. There is often simply no sidewalk, forcing some suburbanites to put on their running shoes and pedometers inside giant malls, clocking miles as they pass the various cookie stands, ice cream shops and bagel makers.
A vocal group of urban planners, especially those known as New Urbanists, have embraced the new studies as proof of their longstanding contention that small-town life is the best. Among other imperatives, the New Urbanists and their followers have cited beauty, nature and money as reasons to face down suburban sprawl, with its dependence on cars, and once again build old-fashioned neighborhoods with streets laid in tight grids. "Now we can say there are physiological issues, too," said Peter Calthorpe, a New Urbanist architect and urban designer in Berkeley, Calif.
The studies issued last week are the clearest example yet that the planning and public health fields are beginning to speak each other's language on suburban sprawl. After focusing for years on Americans' diets, health experts have turned to assess the degree to which Americans' four-wheel lives contribute to obesity, hypertension, coronary disease, diabetes, asthma, even mental disorders like anxiety and depression.
"We do an environmental impact statement for a new subdivision, and we look at trees and birds and the rest," Dr. Jackson said. "But we need to look at the impacts on human health."
Stay-at-home wives have often complained about the isolation of suburbia, working parents point to the killer commutes and teenagers moan about the boredom. Now Dr. Jackson believes there are persuasive, if yet circumstantial, links between the suburbs and certain physical and mental diseases. If so, he said, the building of larger and larger suburbs might be viewed as a colossal mistake.
The study published last week in the American Journal of Health Promotion is the one most likely to alarm public health and planning specialists. The study's authors, Barbara A. McCann, research director of Smart Growth America, an anti-sprawl coalition in Washington, and Reid Ewing, research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland in College Park, developed a "sprawl index" to quantify the density of 448 counties nationwide and then compared government health data on 200,000 people living in those counties.
The results of the obesity study — which accounted for variables like age, gender, race, diet and physical activity — suggest that people in more sprawling suburban areas, like Geauga County, Ohio, and Walton County, Ga., weigh more (as much as six pounds more in the most sprawling areas) and have higher blood pressure than people in more densely developed areas like New York City.
THERE are critics who believe such results are overblown. Wendell Cox, a demographer and transportation consultant in Belleville, Ill., believes the results of the study favor the highest-density cities, like New York. "If you look at San Francisco versus its suburbs, you find a pound or two pounds difference" in expected body weight, Mr. Cox said. "If we all walked like New Yorkers, we'd all weigh a little bit less. But we're not going to weigh like New Yorkers until we all live like New Yorkers."
And in neighborhoods with no sidewalks, walking like New Yorkers is almost impossible. Carol Cowart, a 50-year-old secretary in Nashville, recently moved from a neighborhood that had sidewalks on every street to a neighborhood where there are none. "I can walk in the street," said Ms. Cowart, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighs 220 pounds and needs to exercise for her diabetes. "But if there's a car coming, I have to get off the street and into the dirt." She said she is not likely to push her grandson down the street in a stroller, either. Instead she has to drive six miles twice a week to the Centennial Sportsplex for water aerobics, and the rest of the time to a park where she can walk.
Planning boards and public works officials in some cities have begun making it easier for people to walk around. The city of Nashville has budgeted $55 million over the past three years and plans to spend another $230 million in the next decade installing sidewalks throughout the city, said Rick Bernhardt, executive director of the planning department there. The city spends about $20 per foot of sidewalk, although in difficult areas they can cost $125 per foot.
Priority for sidewalks in Nashville goes to areas around schools. A study released in April by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a research and advocacy group in Washington, found that 71 percent of parents with school-age children walked to school themselves as children, but only 18 percent of their own children walk to school.
William Smith of Silver Spring, Md., saw neighborhood children take buses rather than walk 600 feet to East Silver Spring Elementary School when his children started school in 1999. "Parents don't feel safe with the kids walking," Mr. Smith said.
Peg Cheng, a 31-year-old career counselor at the University of Washington, lives near the old city limit of Seattle, at 85th Street. Beyond 85th Street, she said, there are no sidewalks, "which makes it very difficult for those of us who live near 86th and 87th to walk around our neighborhood."
Some Seattle neighborhoods never got sidewalks after they were annexed by the city. "There was never any money to do it," said David Levinger, president of Feet First, a local pedestrian advocacy group. "In almost all areas of the city, there are rights of way that permit construction of sidewalks," Mr. Levinger said. "Then it becomes a property war over parking."
Of course, no one would want to discourage parking. In fact, it is only when their cars are parked that Americans have the opportunity to get out of them to walk.
NON-NEW YORKER Carol Cowart drives to the Centennial Sportsplex, behind her, in Nashville, twice a week to exercise and also walks in Centennial Park; near her home, she has to walk in the street.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
August 13, 2003
In Spite of All Those Sidewalks, the City Finds Itself Flabby
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
It comes as no great shock that far too many people in New York City weigh far too much, but a city report released yesterday offered some eye-catching details about the dimensions, causes and particulars of the problem.
In a survey conducted by the city, 26 percent of adult New Yorkers said they had not exercised at all in the month before they were questioned — not even a brisk 20-minute walk — and 14 percent said they had not eaten any fruits or vegetables the previous day. Hispanics scored the worst on these lifestyle factors, with 34 percent saying they had not exercised in the previous month, and 21 percent saying they had not eaten fruits or vegetables the day before. Blacks did not fare much better.
But the report did offer a slight "well, it could be worse." In a nation where the rate of obesity has nearly doubled in a decade, New Yorkers are a bit less likely to be obese than people around the country.
In all, the city survey found that 35 percent of adults in New York City were overweight, and that 18 percent were obese. The figures, like those in national studies, are reliable only to the extent that people can be trusted to be honest about their heft, because the survey relied on respondents to report their height and weight.
A national survey in 2001 found that 21 percent of adults were obese, up from 12 percent in 1991. City officials said that there were no earlier city-level studies, but that they were sure New York had seen a similar increase. The new city figures come from a wide-ranging health survey of 10,000 people conducted last year by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"I think what's surprising all of us in public health across the nation is that obesity is not only getting worse, it's getting worse faster than any of us thought it could," unlike other serious health threats like smoking, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city health commissioner. "This is not genetics. This is our balance with our environment. And obesity isn't just an issue of looks. It's an issue of life. Obesity kills."
Last month, the city released a separate survey of elementary school students that showed that New York's children were more likely to be obese than those around the country. Studies like these play into a national debate among urban planners as to whether pedestrian-friendly cities encourage more fitness than places where people rely more heavily on driving.
Dr. Frieden said he believed that living in a place like New York City forced people to move their bodies at least a little bit more than suburban life would, and that as a result, the city might be an easier place for people to do something about their weight problems. A New Yorker can climb stairs rather than take elevators, he said, or can leave the subway one stop early and walk.
Obesity has long been known to be a leading cause of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, which is rapidly becoming more common. New research shows that obesity also causes cancer and possibly asthma.
The city report found that 26 percent of black residents were obese, 23 percent of Hispanics, 14 percent of whites and 5 percent of Asians. Men were much more likely to be overweight — 41 percent compared with 29 percent for women. But they also were less likely to be obese — 16 percent compared with 20 percent.
Like other studies, this one found that poor people were most likely to be overweight, to not exercise and to have unhealthy eating habits. Hispanics, blacks and Asians showed no significant variation, borough to borough, but white Manhattanites were less than half as likely as whites in the rest of the city to be obese.
The city study and previous national ones defined "overweight" as having a body mass index of 25 or more and obese as having a body mass index of 30 or more. Body mass index, or B.M.I., is one's weight in pounds multiplied by 703, then divided by the square of height in inches; or, in metric measures, weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A person who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 200 pounds has a B.M.I. of 28.7. B.M.I., which is widely used by doctors, is a good rough guide, but it can incorrectly call a muscular person too heavy, or say that a person with a slender build and a paunch falls within the healthy range.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Originally posted by krulltime.
Manhattanites prove pound-wise
White residents are thinner than U.S. norm; thank ambition, fashion and je ne sais quoi
Published on April 19, 2004
Dozens of reed-thin fashionistas fill designer Donna Karan's flagship boutique on Madison Avenue, sipping champagne. Celebrities like Kevin Bacon and Alan Cumming munch on cucumber slivers, and New York's elite line up to coo over the designer's recent dramatic weight loss.
Not an ounce of flab can be seen on the glamorous partygoers celebrating the launch of a book by wellness and diet guru Dr. Frank Lipman, a close friend of Ms. Karan's.
The glittering soiree is just one snapshot of the intensely weight-conscious lives of New Yorkers. While the rest of the nation grows fat, thin is in for a thick slice of Manhattan's population, according to the most recent health statistics.
The average body mass index among white Manhattan residents is 23, compared with an average BMI of almost 27 nationwide. Only 34% of white Manhattan residents are overweight, with a BMI of 25 or more, compared with 64% throughout America. At just 7%, the obesity rate among white Manhattan residents is a fraction of the national obesity rate of about 21%.
Manhattan's numbers are even more startling when compared with those for other parts of the city.
While differences in income, diet and culture have historically led to more obesity among blacks and Hispanics than whites--creating alarmingly high obesity rates of close to 30% among blacks and Hispanics in Staten Island and the Bronx--that doesn't explain why the obesity rate among whites in Manhattan is less than half the average for whites in the rest of the city. About 4% of white Manhattanites, or twice the city average, are actually underweight, with a BMI of less than 18.
"The proportion of whites in Manhattan who are not obese is striking," says Dr. Thomas Frieden, the city's health commissioner. "I wish we could find out the reason why and bottle it."
Dr. Frieden has a team of the city's leading epidemiologists searching for an answer. Some public health experts say it's because Manhattan is a borough made for walking. Others say it's the high concentration of educated people, who generally have better health habits. Wealth, which enables people to eat more healthfully and work out at Equinox, also plays a part. Some veteran observers of this city's social scene have a different explanation.
"This is the city of ambition," explains author Tom Wolfe, who invented the term "social X-ray" to describe a character in his novel Bonfire of the Vanities who is obsessed with thinness.
When Mr. Wolfe's book was published in 1987, the skeletal socialite was part of a rarefied class of New Yorkers. But now, fashion and social pressures have trickled down to members of both sexes and all economic levels, he says.
The city's statistics have already taken economic differences into account, suggesting that even the struggling secretary sharing a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan tends to be lean, all the better to make those climbs up social and career ladders.
Hip sans hips
"Staying thin today is a sign you're hip and on top of things," says Mr. Wolfe.
He notes that members of the current generation of rising-star executives get up at 5 a.m. to go jogging around the reservoir in Central Park, in contrast to the portly corporate titans of yesteryear. (Robert Greifeld, chief executive of the Nasdaq Stock Market, can frequently be seen on the city's running paths, for example.)
"To be fat is to look slightly stupid," Mr. Wolfe says, hastily adding that this pervasive attitude is based on perception, not reality.
Ambition may be a key factor, but fashion is the ultimate motivator in the quest to be svelte.
"Manhattan is the epicenter of vanity," says David Wolfe, creative director of fashion consulting firm The Doneger Group.
More than residents of any other fashion capital, including London and Paris, New Yorkers feel pressure to conform to the style edict of the moment, says this Mr. Wolfe, who weighs a combination of psychological and sociological factors to make his forecasts for the industry. While New Yorkers are fashion slaves heavily influenced by the media, Parisians tend to make their own judgments before they adopt a trend, he says.
New Yorkers want to fit into the trendiest designer clothes, which tend to look best on skinny people.
Gigi Howard, a fashion publicist whose willowy 5-foot-91/2-inch frame slips into a size 6, readily admits to being weight-conscious. A hectic spring has kept her out of the gym, so she's taking a few days off to work out with her personal trainer.
"I feel like I need to be thinner," she says.
Ms. Howard, who likes to shop at trendy Manhattan boutiques such as Olive and Bette's and Searle, says she couldn't fit into the one-size-fits-all camisoles she recently bought if she were to balloon to a size 8.
"There is so much pressure to look good in clothes that are designer-driven," she says.
Men are often just as susceptible to the dictates of fashion. After all, Manhattan is the birthplace of the metrosexual, the vain urban male fascinated with personal grooming and appearance.
New York's designers take the emphasis on diet and weight to a whole new level. Consider Norma Kamali's midtown boutique, which sells wellness products and holds yoga classes four nights a week. It's not possible to go to a fashion event without hearing about someone's beloved personal trainer, or the life-changing benefits of the raw foods diet, which helped Ms. Karan drop more than 20 pounds.
"It used to be that people talked about the weather or automobile engines," observes Mr. Wolfe, the author.
The size connection
The fashion world's obsession with size ties in directly with social and career ambitions, because of the way that people in this city are judged by appearances, says Doneger's Mr. Wolfe, who confesses to working out with a personal trainer three times a week.
"Most people take a minute or two to decide whether they like someone's looks, but here, it takes a nanosecond," he says.
Thinness is equated with power, he continues, because others assume that denying the basic need to eat takes strength. "If you are driven and competitive about income, you are driven and competitive about diet," he says.
While Manhattanites' thinness may be healthy compared with the rest of the nation's obesity epidemic, Mr. Wolfe, the author, isn't so fond of the new feminine ideal of "boys with breasts." The modern-day Marilyn Monroe would probably be found hanging out in a cocktail lounge with Cybex machines, he says.
Copyright 2004, Crain Communications, Inc
MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!!
Are we fat or are we skinny!!?!?!
(I think everyone is getting fat, for the simple reason we don't walk enough. Suburb OR city.)
Somehow having a corner market is going to make you walk more than having to drive 2 miles to get to one?
I think the city needs more places people CAN exercise without an air horn, protective gear and/or a permit, and I think that teh suburbs need more sidewalks and places to GO if they want.
Driving XX miles to get to a park to rollerblade is a PITA, but so is getting to Central Park in the city... So I don't know.
I sorta miss college for that reason. Walk out your door and strap them on....
February 27, 2005
Where You Live Can Hurt You
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
ARA LOUISE LAZARUS lost a lot of weight last year, but she has gained some of it back since moving from her apartment on the Upper West Side to an idyllic 100-year-old colonial house with a leafy yard in Millburn, N.J.
It's possible, she mused the other day, that the weight gain has to do with her newfound domesticity. She has become a kitchen goddess, contentedly cooking breakfast, dinner and desserts for her husband, David Seader, and their first-grade son, Sam. In New York, the family ate out a lot.
But, she has to admit, she is also walking less. The half-mile, 10-minute walk to the train station that seemed so inviting in the summer and fall now seems gloomy and slightly menacing in winter, as darkness falls earlier.
"It's next to the South Mountain Reservation," said Ms. Lazarus, who commutes to New York, where she is a director and teacher at the Circle in the Square Theater School. "It's all woods and dark, and you feel like you're in 'The Blair Witch Project.' So there goes the walking."
Right about now, one can imagine Dr. Roland Sturm, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, nodding knowingly. Dr. Sturm and a colleague, Dr. Deborah Cohen, a RAND researcher and physician, released a study last fall that found that people who live in sprawling suburban areas are less healthy in certain areas - mostly associated with exercise, or the lack of it - than those who live in compact urban neighborhoods.
The study, published in the journal Public Health, was based on lengthy telephone surveys that questioned adults about their physical and mental health between 1998 and 2001. Dr. Sturm and Dr. Cohen analyzed data from more than 8,600 people in 38 metropolitan areas.
The researchers concluded that suburbanites were more likely to report chronic health problems, like high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches, migraines and breathing problems than people who lived in the city, even after accounting for mitigating factors like race, age, economic status and the weather, which might influence how much exercise people got.
Dr. Sturm and Dr. Cohen said their findings suggested that sprawl ages a community by four years. The more quintessentially suburban one's community, they concluded, the worse for one's health. The worst possible place to live, they said, was the suburban ideal: a cul-de-sac with few sidewalks that empties into a big access road, so that residents have to drive to shopping, school and work.
Conversely, people were healthier in places like Chicago, Boston and San Francisco - possibly because they were more likely to walk to work or take public transportation, according to the study, than in places like Atlanta; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and San Bernardino, Calif., where there was more sprawl and more reliance on cars. The tendency of people to be healthier also holds for extremely compact places like New York City, Dr. Sturm said, although by virtue of its compactness, it is something of an anomaly.
The study gains some power from being so counterintuitive. It would seem to be a given that living in a single-family house is a step above most apartments; that green grass is a better place for children to play in than the asphalt jungle; that it is healthier to be surrounded by tall trees than by tall skyscrapers. But its conclusions have been met with skepticism by some experts for drawing cause-and-effect links where they may be dubious.
"My reaction to this is it's intriguing but certainly needs a lot more explanation," said Dr. David Ackman, Nassau County's health commissioner. "This is - in general - the weakest type of epidemiologic study. It says there's an association, but we don't know if it's causative. These sorts of studies are generally thought of as hypothesis-generating studies. They raise questions that may or may not merit further investigation."
Another criticism, which the authors acknowledge, is that the study ignored variations among microenvironments - neighborhoods within neighborhoods.
A look at county health statistics for New York State suggests that New York City's five boroughs vary so widely in lifestyle and health that it might be difficult to generalize about the city as a whole.
The authors of the RAND study created a "sprawl index" for 38 metropolitan areas, with a lower score denoting more sprawl. In the New York region, the cities studied were New York, Newark and Bridgeport, Danbury and Stamford, Conn.
On their list, Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., had the worst sprawl score, at 14.2, followed by Greensboro, N.C., and Atlanta. Boston (126.9), San Francisco (146.8) and New York City (177.8) are at the other extreme.
Also relatively near the top for sprawl were Bridgeport, Danbury and Stamford, which ranked sixth, with a score of 68.4. Rochester (77.9), Syracuse (80.3) and Newark (81.3) ranked slightly better but still among the most sprawling third of the list.
The study also conducted a "sensitivity analysis" to determine whether factors like unemployment, English-speaking skills, the percentage of homeowners and the number of liquor stores or bars would change the results; it did not.
"We see higher incidence of chronic conditions in areas that are more sprawling," Dr. Sturm said in a recent interview from his office in Santa Monica, Calif. "Especially pain conditions. They're stiff, they have joint pain, hypertension, heart conditions" - conditions, he said, that could be related to a lack of physical activity.
Yes, Dr. Sturm conceded, the term "soccer mom" was invented to describe suburban women. So doesn't it matter that suburban children play organized sports or that their parents go to the gym?
Dr. Sturm argues that it doesn't, at least not enough. More important than weekend exercise and going to the gym, he says, is what he calls "utilitarian walking," the few minutes several times a day spent walking to the subway, including up and down the subway stairs, or to the corner grocery store or a restaurant that people living in urban areas more typically do.
"There is less utilitarian walking in sprawling areas," he said. "People don't think of it as exercise, but it makes a huge difference. Just the 10 additional minutes a day that you go to the store and back easily add up to a couple of pounds a year in terms of body weight."
When children play soccer, he notes, they may stand around a lot. "During those 30 minutes that they actually play soccer each week," he said, "they may not spend even half the amount of energy that another kid spends walking to school." Trisha Beatty, who lives in a secluded development of large homes near Glastonbury, Conn., confesses to being torn about the advantages and disadvantages of suburban living, but like other mothers, she says she and her husband have chosen the suburbs as a safe, comfortable place to raise their two children.
"I agree with the premise, but regretfully," she says of the sprawl study's finding that people walk less in the suburbs.
The Beatty family epitomizes what the sprawl study defines as the worst possible situation: their big, beautiful house is in a cul-de-sac, with no sidewalks and no streetlights, two miles down a country road from the main access route to the nearby towns of Glastonbury, Hebron and Bolton. The closest store is about five miles away.
Sports are certainly celebrated by people in the area. There are hiking trails and mountain biking nearby. But routine walking is difficult.
Ms. Beatty, an administrator of subsidized housing for the elderly who commutes to work in Hartford several times a week, is an exception to the non-pedestrian culture around her. She has mapped out a three-mile walking route and tries to walk or jog it three times a week, sometimes with a friend. But just walking in her car-centered neighborhood requires courage. She has to walk along the shoulder of the road, and when cars come, she and her friend move into single file. In icy weather, she goes to Curves for a half-hour workout.
She is not a fan of gas-guzzling, air-polluting S.U.V.'s, but she and her husband bought one after moving in 10 years ago, because their house is on a steep hill, and without all-wheel-drive, they sometimes had to park the car at the bottom of the hill in bad weather. As for her two daughters, 13 and 16, they take a bus and a van to school.
"We love our house," she said. "We love the neighborhood. There are definitely positives to living here. But I can see myself living somewhere else, too. I keep telling the kids that as soon as they get older, I'm selling this house, and I am going to the city or something."
MARY MURPHY, who lives in Rockville Centre, N.Y., often marvels at how dependent she and her neighbors are on their cars. People become so accustomed to driving, she said, that they will drive to places just two blocks away, unthinkable in the city, if only because of the scarcity of parking.
"People drive like a mile, and then go to the gym," she said. "Why don't you just walk that mile and save the money? Or they take their cars and go to someplace where they can jog, like the high school track, but they drive to that, so they're wasting gas and polluting the air."
Ms. Murphy has lived in Rockville Centre for 14 years, but when it comes to exercise, she still looks back fondly at her days in Ozone Park, Queens.
In Queens, she said, there were always little stores two blocks away to walk to for necessities, while on Long Island, she has to go to the main drag a mile away.
Westchester County's health commissioner, Joshua Lipsman, was willing to endorse some of Dr. Sturm's conclusions, saying he had no doubt that a link could be found between a heavy reliance on cars for transportation and obesity.
But like Dr. Ackman of Nassau County, he suggested that factors like education and affluence might compensate for the effects of sprawl. Dr. Ackman noted that Nassau scores well on health measures, which he attributes mainly to its affluence, since affluence, as Dr. Sturm acknowledges, strongly correlates with good health.
His view gets some support from federal health data. In the two key factors associated with sprawl - exercise and weight - Westchester and Nassau Counties score very favorably compared with other counties in New York. They are topped only by Manhattan, according to preliminary data gathered for the 2003 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey of the health of Americans compiled by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in cooperation with selected counties across the country.
Asked whether they were overweight, 42.3 percent of Manhattan residents said they were, the lowest percentage in the New York City area. Next were Fairfield County, Conn., and Nassau, with 52 percent, followed by Westchester with 53.6 percent.
In Bergen County, N.J., 55 percent of residents reported being overweight or obese. In Hudson County, the numbers were about the same, with 56 percent reporting that they were overweight or obese.
The other four boroughs of New York City did somewhat worse than the suburbs, with 62.7 percent of Bronx residents reporting that they were overweight, 58.6 percent of Brooklyn residents, 57.7 percent of Staten Island residents and 57.6 percent of Queens residents. Suffolk County had an obesity rate similar to most of New York City, at 57 percent.
In a related question - whether people had engaged in any leisure-time physical activity or exercise during the preceding 30 days - Fairfield County, Conn., came in at the top, with only 12 percent saying they had been sedentary. In Westchester 20 percent said they had been sedentary, followed by a tie between Manhattan and Suffolk, both with 21.7 percent sedentary residents. Next came Bergen, with 24 percent; Nassau, 24.4 percent; and Staten Island, 26.2 percent sedentary.
Many suburban dwellers say they would like to integrate exercise into their routines but find themselves stymied by a suburban terrain that doesn't lend itself to walking.
For Stephanie Brody, an investment banker, moving to Scarsdale six months ago from the Upper West Side was the right decision for her four children - 5-year-old twins, a 3-year-old and an infant. But she sees an exercise divide between adults and children: The adults, she suspects, get less, while the children get more.
In Manhattan, she said, taking her children to play in Central Park could be a headache. "You can't go to Central Park with three or four kids as easily as opening up the door to your backyard and calling up the kid next door to go out and play."
But her new street doesn't have sidewalks, which makes it hazardous to go out for a walk with the baby in the stroller.
She tries to walk her children to school when possible. "You want to teach your kids that walking is something that is part of their normal existence," she said. "You have to go out of your way to instill that here."
Likewise, Ms. Lazarus in Millburn reluctantly confirmed many of the sprawl study's conclusions, if only anecdotally. Her family now has a yard, graced by two towering pine trees, and she likes looking out the window at the birds and squirrels competing for seeds at her new bird feeder.
"The joy of waking up in the morning and looking out the window," she said of her neighborhood. "We have views and this backyard that just goes on and on and on and on. It's very soul-feeding. I feel wonderful being here."
But having a backyard also makes her family more reclusive than they were in the city. Her son, Sam, doesn't go to the playground nearly as often as he did on the Upper West Side. And sometimes, now that the weather is cold, it is easier to drive the three blocks to his school than to walk.
In Manhattan, they took the subway two stops and then walked five blocks round trip to Sam's school. Without the street life of the city, walking seems less connected, less engaging. "The one thing I will say about suburban life is that I miss the people of the city," she said.
But Ms. Lazarus just keeps thinking about the well-being she feels looking at the view from her windows. "It's so delicious, and the snow is so gorgeous," she said. "I look at it, and I feel healthy."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Urban Green Space Linked to Walking, Cycling Levels
Newswise — The degree to which city people walk or ride bicycles for their daily transportation needs depends largely on how much green space there is, says a new study that examines the role of urban design in physical fitness.
“Because engaging in moderate physical activity such as walking or bicycling can improve health outcomes, understanding strategies that increase these behaviors has become a public health priority,” says Amy Zlot, an epidemiologist with the Oregon Department of Human Services, writing in the current American Journal of Health Promotion.
Using government databases with results from surveys of more than half a million respondents, the researchers compared levels of fitness with parkland acreage in 34 metropolitan areas.
They found that San Francisco had the highest percentage of people who walked or bicycled for recreation and the highest percentage of parkland. New York City had the highest percentage that walked or bicycled for basic transportation, such as commuting to work or running errands, and the third highest amount of parkland.
Atlanta had the lowest percentage for recreational walking or bicycling and the second lowest percentage of parkland, and Memphis had the lowest proportion of people who walked or rode for transportation purposes and the sixth lowest percentage of open space. San Jose had the lowest percentage of parkland.
The parkland acreage was measured as a percentage of total city size, and the figures for walking or bicycling were derived from those who listed those as their two most frequent forms of physical activity.
“In this set of observations, walking and bicycling for transportation was positively associated with parkland acreage,” say Zlot and co-author Tom Schmid, who did the research while employed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data did not show a significant relationship between the level of walking or cycling for pleasure and the percentage of urban parks.
The significance of the study, say the authors, is that “the number of route choices a community provides – and mix – the relative percentage of housing, retail, work and recreational opportunities in a community – appear to be important, independent predictors of walking and bicycling.”
Zlot and Schmid suggest that studies like theirs might help in the planning of “livable communities” by multidisciplinary teams of urban planners, architects, transportation experts, developers, policy makers, park administrators and environmentalists.
A study of Atlanta area residents published in early February found that city dwellers were more physically active than suburbanites because they walk more often for shopping, dining or doing errands.
Government data suggest that only 45 percent of Americans meet recommendations for physical activity and of the remaining 55 percent, about half are sedentary.
The top 10 cities for recreational walking and bicycling: San Francisco, Milwaukee, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Los Angeles/Tampa (tied) and Denver.
The bottom 10 cities for recreational walking and bicycling: Atlanta, Cincinnati, New York, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix-Mesa, Cleveland, Miami, Las Vegas and Virginia Beach.
The top 10 cities for “utilitarian” walking and bicycling: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Cincinnati and Oakland.
The bottom 10 cities for “utilitarian” walking and bicycling: Memphis, Columbus, Cleveland, Virginia Beach, Milwaukee, St. Louis/Atlanta (tied), San Jose, San Diego and Sacramento.
The top 10 cities for parkland as a percentage of city acreage: San Francisco, Washington, New York, San Diego, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Portland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Phoenix-Mesa.
The bottom 10 cities for parkland as a percentage of city acreage: San Jose, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Miami, Houston, Cleveland, Memphis/Sacramento (tie) and Columbus.
© 2005 Newswise