Walkable Neighborhoods Make for Skinny Citizens

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter/ Walking in cherry blossoms

We have known for years that people who live in cities tend to walk more than those who live in suburbs, and are often fitter and skinnier. Now Kaid Benfield writes in CNU Public Square about a new study that took a more sophisticated and throrough look at the subject, that examined the behaviour of 6822 adults in 14 cities from 10 countries, tracking them with electronic exercise monitors and geographic information systems.

[Professor James F.] Sallis and his team were able to compare the amount of exercise undertaken by each subject with land use information on each subject’s immediate neighborhood. They then used statistical analysis to determine which land use characteristics, if any, were significantly correlated with moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity.

The results are really interesting, in that they found four factors that were particularly significant. The more of each: the fitter the residents.

  • Residential density. It takes a critical mass of homes in a neighborhood to support economically viable shops and amenities within walking distance.
  • Intersection density. Well-connected streets tend to shorten travel distances and put more likely destinations within walking distance.
  • Public transport density. More transit stops within walking distance make it more likely that residents have transit options and will elect to use them.
  • Access to parks. Parks serve not only as places where people exercise but also as destinations people walk to and from, getting exercise as they do.

Kaid quotes the study:

The large differences in physical activity between participants living in the most and least activity-friendly neighbourhoods provide strong justification for public health agencies to work with other agencies to create healthier cities. Making cities more activity-friendly than at present could be a partial but substantial long-term solution to international pandemics of physical inactivity and non-communicable diseases.

I find the transit density point the most interesting, since I live in a city where they are spending billions on a one stop subway extension instead of a 24 stop Light Rapid Transit system because the suburb "deserves it." When in fact, that LRT would not only serve a lot more people, it would evidently keep them healthier.

Read more at CNU Public Square