Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Obesity and Urbanism

Richard Florida recently published an entry on his Creative Class blog entitled The Geography of Obesity. It further underscores the real health crisis that we are facing as a nation. Climate change continues to get all the attention but its effects are negligible compared to deaths caused by obesity and automobile accidents in the United States. Both of these are impacted in large part by the design of our communities. It's interesting that the south and west, with their 20th century sprawling patterns of development are also home to the highest rates of obesity. Even if diets changed, people would still face a largely hostile environment when they left their homes to exercise. Walkable's what you do after (a healthy) dinner.

"Obesity has reached epidemic proportions in America. More than 72 million American adults are obese, according to estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics. But obesity varies greatly by state. The map below, from the Centers from Disease Control (CDC), shows the obesity rate for the 50 states, measured as the share of people with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30 which the CDC classifies as “obese.”


It should come as little surprise that states with higher levels of obesity have significantly higher rates of death from cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular diseases like hypertension. There is a significant correlation between obesity and death rates from cancer (.7), heart disease (.7), and cerebrovascular disease (.7)."


  1. This may have more to do with high poverty levels in the South and West than the period of high growth. I would like to see the same map controlled for poverty rates.

  2. Age is also strong influence. It certainly is not all about urban form, but the absence of a good urban form will certainly preclude any hope of regular exercise except at a drive up health club.

  3. Sprawl and obesity both seem to derive from what would appear to be temporary availability of massive amounts of energy in the form petroleum. Urban form and policy should start taking into account how we will live when this energy form dries up.
    I'd love to start teaching my children some skills that will help them live in the inevitable absence of the 18 wheeler that drives through our neighborhood on its daily run to our local grocery store. Alas, the I'm not even "allowed" to have a few hens in the yard.