USA Today Reports: Dangers of Sprawl PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by mark eakle   
Monday, 23 April 2007

VIA:  USA Today

Studies tie urban sprawl to health risks, road danger

People living in sprawling American neighborhoods walk less, weigh more and are more likely to be hit by a car if they do venture out on foot or bicycle, suggests a series of studies out Friday.
 
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Driving every adds up on American's waistline, and can dangerous for their health. By Thomas J. Turney, Carolina Morning News via AP
 

The studies are among the first reports to link shopping centers, a lack of sidewalks and bike trails and other features of urban sprawl to deadly health problems. The studies appear in the September issues of The American Journal of Health Promotion and the American Journal of Public Health.

  The type of county counts

These reports come as more and more Americans are moving out to the suburbs — and walking less and less. Studies by the Federal Highway Administration show that Americans make fewer than 6% of daily trips on foot.

In the first report, Reid Ewing, a researcher at the University of Maryland, and his colleagues studied more than 200,000 Americans living in 448 counties in major metropolitan areas.

The team assessed the degree of sprawl in each county and then looked at some key health characteristics. Team members found that people who lived in sprawling neighborhoods walked less and had less chance to stay fit.

These neighborhoods were built to accommodate cars and SUVs, not walkers, says Richard Jackson of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. People living in urban sprawl often can't walk because the shops are miles away, often in strip malls accessible only by high-speed roadways, he says.

Ewing's study shows that such everyday driving trips to the store or to the corner bus stop can add up: People in sprawling neighborhoods weighed about 6 pounds more on average than the folks living in compact neighborhoods where sidewalks are plentiful and stores and shops are close to residential areas.

The report also shows that people living in sprawling urban areas were more likely to suffer from obesity, which can put people at higher risk of cancer, diabetes and a host of other diseases. Urban sprawl also put residents at a slightly higher risk of developing high blood pressure.

A second study by John Pucher at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., suggests that urban sprawl poses another health hazard: It's dangerous to walk or bike in areas where cars rule the road. He found that American cyclists and pedestrians were two to six times more likely to be killed on the road than their German or Dutch counterparts.

He says American cities could remedy that hazard by putting in more car-free zones, sidewalks and bike paths.

Some developers now sell planned communities with walking and biking paths. The Urban Land Institute, a group for developers and planners, says 5% to 15% of new development is designed with pedestrians in mind.

If Americans don't get out of the car and walk more, experts worry that epidemic of obesity and disease will just get worse.

"What we're talking about are diseases that will become rampant among the baby boomers," Jackson says. "We've got to build neighborhoods that work for people."


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