Sprawl

Even When They Don't Hit You...

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 14, 2005

...Cars are still deadly.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has, ah, weighed in on suburbia with a new study that further confirms all the research into sedentary, car-based lifestyles and long-term health.

As Foundation spokesperson Dr. Anthony Graham said in the related news release, "our car-dependent habits are killing us."

The Foundation's 2005 Report Card states:

car-dependent Canadians get far less physical activity and are at increased risk of being overweight or obese.

Simply put, the suburban dream has gone sour. ...

According to the Foundation, for people in the suburbs, smaller towns and rural areas, this false sense of security could be putting them at higher risk for heart disease and stroke than their city dweller counterparts. Foundation research shows that city-dwellers are twice as likely to walk, bike or take public transit to get to work as their non-urban counterparts. In addition, more city-dwellers walk or bike to do daily chores.

"This Report Card is a wake-up call for all Canadians, especially those living outside major urban centres, to take a look at their communities and their lifestyles," explains Dr. Graham. "Research has demonstrated that routine physical activity is one factor that can be linked to the lower rate of obesity observed in major urban centres."
Percent of Population Who:Major Urban CentresRest of Canada
Find their community convenient to walk or bike in87%60%
Walk or bike to do daily chores77%60%
Are at a healthy weight50%44%
Walk, bike, or take public transit as primary means of getting to work34%18%

The report actually vindicates city life, noting that "80% of Canadians believe" - incorrectly, it seems - "city living and its high pressure, fast-paced lifestyle is detrimental to your health.

The Foundation points the finger directly at what they call "heart-unhealthy" suburban planning:

Individuals living in moderate-to-high density neighbourhoods that have community and commercial services within walking distance of where they live, are 2.4 times more likely to meet [minimum recommended exercise].

"Unfortunately, non-metropolitan areas often contain disincentives to physical activity. In fact, residents are exposed daily to the effects of heart-unhealthy planning," says Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher, Dr. Robert Ross. "Retail services outside of urban areas are designed with automobile access as a priority. Sidewalks and cycle lanes are conspicuous by their absence, making suburban and rural-dwelling Canadians prisoners to their cars."

Let me close with the Foundation's recommendations for municipalities:

Sounds about right.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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