Cul de Sacs and 11 Other Unexpected Things That Are Making You Fat

cul de sacs make you fat image

Add another to our endless series of things that make you fat, many of which have to do with planning and design. The Harvard Business Review reports on a new study by Lawrence Frank of the University of British Columbia, that analyzed conditions in King County, Washington; he found that residents in neighbourhoods with grids and interconnected streets travelled 26% fewer miles by car than did those who lived in the neighbourhood of cul-de-sacs. The HBR concludes:

Recent studies by Frank and others show that as a neighborhood's overall walkability increases, so does the amount of walking and biking--while, per capita, air pollution and body mass index decrease.


We have been down this road before; we have written that the The End of the Cul-de-Sac is Nigh. Grids are more efficient in their use of land, cost less to service and give people more options. We have also noted that:

2. Cars Make You Fat


There is an inverse correlation between obesity rates and the rates of cycling, walking and biking. Felix Salmon calls it the Urban Diet, noting that people who don't have a car can't fill their fridges with a ton of food, and have to give a lot more thought to what they eat. (Not to mention the fact that they walk and bike more).

Ryan Avent concurs:

The bottom line is that there is a very strong correlation between living in sprawl and being obese.

I concluded:

It is all a big conspiracy; the automobile created suburban sprawl, bigger and fuller fridges, the proliferation of fast food restaurants and the decline in the use of bikes. The system is rigged to put people in cars and take them to Wal-Mart for cheap high-fat food and McDonalds for more, faster.

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More things that make you fat:

3. Where You Live Makes You Fat.

where you live makes you fat

CalorieLab maps the obesity rate in the United States. What makes Mississippi the fattest state and Colorado the skinniest? It certainly can't be Colorado's love of bicycles, judging by their congressmen. I am told that the love of deep-fried food affects Mississippi and the four fat states surrounding it. Or could it just be too hot and languorous there? And why are Washington and Oregon, where everyone bikes and kayaks to work every day, pleasantly plump compared to Montana and Utah?

More: You Are Where You Eat: Obesity Maps of North America

4. The Recession Makes You Fat.

depression family photo

You don't see a lot of obesity in pictures from the Depression. But over at Planet Green, Kelly quotes a woman who is changing her shopping habits:

"If I buy four litres of milk it's costing me almost $7.00 but if I can go buy two-litre bottles of Coca Cola, it's going to cost me two and change. That's a problem that I have... ."

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5. The Suburbs Make You Fat.

fitness club photo

Researchers are finding that suburban dwellers are significantly fatter than their urban counterparts, primarily because they drive everywhere, even to the fitness club.

"In a livable city, it should be possible and pleasant to reach restaurants, shops and entertainment on foot. Those who insist on riding bicycles should be able to do so safely and find bike racks on every street. An efficient subway or light-rail system not only makes it cheap and easy to get around town while legally drunk, it also provides more walking opportunities from home to station and station to destination."

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6. Architecture Makes You Fat.

dramatic interior stair

A stair that you want to use

Tim Townshend, a Newcastle academic and former town planner, is one of those suggesting that our public spaces - our cities, suburbs, shopping centres - are enforcing a culture that consumes energy without expending it, encouraging inactivity and poor eating habits. One of Townshend's more frivolous suggestions is that we make stairwells a more attractive option by fitting them with piped music (although it's this, arguably, that made lifts loathsome in the first place)."

That, besides the number of gyms and liposuction clinics, is why New Yorkers are skinny compared to the nation as a whole. "In very dense urban environments, you get local shops and facilities mixed up together," says Townshend. "People tend to use those more. There's an awful lot more walking involved, just because of the inconvenience of driving." High-density housing, in other words, can help create what is known in the trade as the "eco-slob" effect, whereby the healthy, environmentally friendly option is also the path of least resistance."

More: Can Architecture Make You Fat?

Next: Cheap Gas Makes You Fat.

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