Sprawl

Interactive Obesity Map

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 11, 2006

MSN has posted an interactive map highlighting the alarming rise in obesity rates in the United States.

Part of the problem is that American society is arranged in such a way that it's very difficult to be physically active and very easy to be sedentary and to eat a lot of crappy processed food. When you live in the middle of sprawl need a car to get anywhere, and have a two hour commute, how are you supposed to find time to exercise, prepare healthy home cooked meals, get enough sleep (lack of sleep encourages obesity), and so on?

Kids growing up in this environment have it the worst, because they aren't even aware that different lifestyles are possible - and indeed, they're not possible in suburbs and exurbs.

Notice that the biggest gains in obesity seem to be correlated geographically with the fastest growing suburbs of the new American south.

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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By KC (anonymous) | Posted July 12, 2006 at 14:48:58

American Citizens have choices. You choose to have a 2 hour commute to work. That junk food does not just jump into your mouth, you make the choice to eat it. You choose to make time for priorities in your life. If eating right and exercising is a priority, then you will make time for it.

Three of the six states with the lowest levels of obese and overweight populations are Colorado, Utah and Montana. They are incredibly "sprawled" out states, however their populations are keeping off the pounds. Working out can include taking run through our suburban neighborhood, playing basketball or soccer with your children, or taking the dog for a walk. You don't always have to go to the gym. Enjoy the day and make taking care of yourself a priority, which is very possible in a country that give you that freedom.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 13, 2006 at 11:18:52

Interesting points, KC. I wonder to what extent the high levels of obesity in other states is due to the fact that they're in the South and are extremely hot for most of the year.

Perhaps the sedentary lifestyles that produced such a dramatic increase in obesity are related to the endless struggle to remain in air-conditioned comfort - living room to garage to car to parking lot to office to parking lot to car to parking lot to mall to parking lot to drive-thru (engine running the whole time) to garage to living room.

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By Marie (registered) | Posted July 13, 2006 at 13:42:44

KC, Ryan...interesting comments. However, I would think that family income levels would play a very significant role affecting participation in sporting activities, and thus obesity. Given that 1 in 4 children under the age of 12 in Hamilton live in poverty (SPRC 2004 Report), coming up with the $35/month/child to engage in a dance class, or $135/child to register for houseleague soccer is just not possible.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 14, 2006 at 09:35:58

Hi Marie,

You raise an excellent point regarding the challenges for low-income families, but I would urge you not to fall into the "exercise" trap.

Much of what we call "exercise" - dance classes, team sports, etc - is an organized effort to replace the missing physical activity of day-to-day life. A physical environment that brings regular destinations, like schools, jobs, and playgrounds within walking or cycling distance can help to re-integrate physical activity into lives that are currently organized around driving.

This can be especially beneficial to low income families because the cost of transportation (vehicles or bus passes) is a much larger share of total family expenses.

Unfortunately, in our culture, walking and cycling are looked down upon as second-class modes of transportation. Someone who faces daily reminders of the comforts and conveniences that the more affluent enjoy is as likely to resent the connotation of self-propulsion as one is to appreciate its economy and liberation.

I'm conscious of the fact that it's easy for me to ride a bike to work and face the occasional judgment (a family member once told me, "You're regressing!"), since I ride by choice and not necessity. I wonder whether I would be as sanguine if I couldn't afford another option.

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