Weekend Warrior #14 – Is Your Suburb Making You Fat?

It’s apparently taken me 10 years to find this one but thanks nonetheless to Romilly Madew [GBCA CEO] who posted the link.

It’s probably instinctive to most of us that if we live in neighbourhoods that force us into our cars we walk less. Through poor planning we can be prevented from walking to the local shops, walking to school or work, or even walking to a park.

This report from Smart Growth America entitled ‘Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl’ establishes a clear link between urban sprawl [or more accurately the degree of connectivity between streets and the proximity of mixed uses to residences] and the prevalence of obesity and hypertension [high blood pressure] – two key ingredients for acute heart disease.

sprawl cover

One of the more interesting findings of the study was that the provision of dedicated exercise facilities on their own did not reduce obesity… people got a little fitter but didn’t drop weight. It needs the proximity of and easy access to shops, offices, schools, public transport connections, parks and trails to encourage us to simply move around more on a daily basis – and it’s this daily movement that keeps us slimmer.

To add to this here’s a great infographic from Active Living Research – the role that community design plays in keeping us healthier. Another statistic from this site shows that for every $1 spent on trails, $3 in healthcare is saved. Wow!


Our healthcare systems are creaking under the weight of customers, many of whom are simply victims of poor neighbourhood planning.  What excites me about this though is that it’s all fixable and it can be done right now. Many of the posts in this blog have been talking about the very things that can make our communities healthier through good planning, smart design and roll-your-sleeves-up retrofits.

So, your weekend challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to get outside into your neighbourhood and walk it, explore it, play in it. See how directly you can walk to the nearest school yard or park or trail. The target is to have amenities within 1 mile [1.6km] which is considered far enough before many of us would opt for a car instead – that’s about 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.

If you don’t find any amenities in that time, go back home and get busy in your garden planting some food instead.

Happy trails.


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