Public Health

Obesity Thrives in Un-Walkable Neighbourhoods

By Ben Bull
Published January 15, 2014

Well who knew? Obesity thrives in un-walkable neighbourhoods!

This is old news to readers of RTH but we can at least add today's Star article to the long list of healthcare studies - this time by St Mike's - concluding something we've all known for a while: The suburbs will make you fat.

Rates of obesity and diabetes are 33 percent higher in outlying parts of Toronto... Least-walkable neighbourhoods include those in outer Etobicoke and Scarborough. Residents living in such areas have, on average, a one-third greater chance of being obese and having diabetes than those in the most walkable areas, according to the study published Wednesday in the online journal PLOS One.

The study uses a variety of factors to determine what makes a neighbourhood walkable, including:

Looking at these unhealthy neighbourhood designs, co-author Dr. Gillian Booth notes, "We pretty much engineered physical activity out of our daily lives".

Sounds about right, but the question is: what do we do now?

You can find the original research report here.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 15, 2014 at 15:12:26

70 year old hit at Main and Emerson today. Even if there is somewhere to walk to, our streets aren't exactly pleasant places to be out and about. Yet. We're going to fix that :)

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2014 at 15:54:55

Obesity goes hand in hand with low-income in today's society. Go to Oakville or Burlington neighbourhoods where people drive everywhere and let me know how many fat people you see. Walkable neighbourhoods have nothing to do with it.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 15, 2014 at 16:08:32 in reply to Comment 96828

The evidence does not support your hypothesis. According to the original study, which is linked from the blog post:

Characteristics of the study area by walkability quintiles are shown in Table 1. There were few clear socio-demographic differences across quintiles apart from a higher proportion of children and seniors living in the least walkable areas, and a higher average household income, yet lower education, in the least walkable areas.

In other words, areas with worse walkability and higher rates of obesity and diabetes were not also places with lower average incomes.

This is consistent with other research, like a 2012 study using Toronto data that actually measured the incidence of new cases of diabetes (not just the prevalence) against walkability. That study explicitly controlled for income, ethnicity and so on and found that walkability was indendently correlated with the risk of getting diabetes.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 15, 2014 at 15:59:57 in reply to Comment 96828

Maybe read the study first before guessing:

"There were few clear socio-demographic differences across quintiles apart from a higher proportion of children and seniors living in the least walkable areas, and a higher average household income, yet lower education, in the least walkable areas."

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By KristinR (registered) | Posted January 15, 2014 at 17:27:05

I just recently watched a great TEDTalk on this very subject: http://www.ted.com/talks/mick_cornett_ho...

It should be required watching for our entire city council. What Oklahoma City is doing is amazing - it gives me hope that we may one day soon get the ball rolling here...

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 07:41:17 in reply to Comment 96835

This is an amazing talk. This is their Mayor saying these things:

I came to the conclusion that we had built an incredible quality of life ... if you happened to be a car. But if you happened to be a person, you were combating the car seemingly at every turn.

You could literally get a speeding ticket during rush hour in Oklahoma City.

We revisited some inner city situations where we had built neighborhoods, we had built schools, but we had not connected the two.

We had wide streets. You pushed the button to cross, then had to run to get across in time. Now we've narrowed the streets, highly landscaped them

Along with the traditional economic development tasks, we added some health related infrastructure to the process. We added a new Central Park 70 acres in size to be right downtown. We're building a downtown streetcar, to try and help the walkability formula for people who choose to live in the inner city, and to help the density there.

Incredible. I want Mr. Cornett for Hamilton Mayor 2014. I want to better understand how to vote in order to get the person closest to these values.

I noticed something as Mr. Cornett progressed through his description of the process. His "we're losing a million pounds" campaign was brilliantly executed, but it reveals the root of the success - the community and employers got engaged in the effort! His intelligent leadership then provided the tools and got it done. And he sold this transformation by calling what it is ... "health infrastructure". Awesome.

One concern I have is that Hamilton's idea of "health infrastructure" is to keep business booming at our hospitals and cancer centers. Keeping our streets dangerous and coated in diesel exhaust. Good for Hamilton's main industry. Hopefully that's just crazy talk and no such situation exists :)

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-01-16 07:58:39

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:11:07 in reply to Comment 96855

This statement is 100% applicable to us and is so simple in its implications I wish I'd thought of it:

You can literally get a speeding ticket during rush hour in downtown Hamilton

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:50:51 in reply to Comment 96863

And their mayor seemed to understand as a matter-of-fact, that this meant things were out of balance.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 13:03:52 in reply to Comment 96866

Meanwhile, our mayor brags about how we're a 20 minute city. It would be funny if it weren't literally killing people.

Mikeonthemountain, I don't want to tell you how to vote (well I do, but I don't want be a pest), but I think it's pretty clear how NOT to vote.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2014 at 12:58:29 in reply to Comment 96866

You mean he wasn't bragging that it's a "20-minute city" (for drivers)?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 13:06:09 in reply to Comment 96868

He became the mayor of a 15-minute city, and once he connected the dots, was ashamed of it, not bragging about it.

He described part of the problem being that everything within 50 miles was 15 minutes away resulting in sprawl.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 13:12:24 in reply to Comment 96871

As awesome as this is, you have to wonder if he would have been elected had he had this epiphany earlier and campaigned on it. It will also be interesting to see if he is RE-elected after bringing in these changes, or if he'll just be Oklahoma City's David Miller. Fingers crossed.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 19, 2014 at 09:46:29 in reply to Comment 96872

Highwater:

David Miller won re-election as Toronto's mayor 100% of the time. Zero losses.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 13:27:08 in reply to Comment 96872

I agree completely. Part of his 'epiphany' was devising (recognizing an opportunity) a way to get through to people. He used the angle of getting OKC off the most obese cities lists. His way of implementing it won over residents and businesses psychologically.

Here we have people absolutely terrified of any new interference to their driving. The usual trolls show up on all the newspaper and blog comments with the usual unintelligent and tired excuses and fears.

I agree completely that a Mayor is not getting into office on a campaign of slowing down drivers and making the city harder to drive through. We have not yet had a leader that galvanized everyone to something we can all agree upon. To make the changes we want to see, not the goal in themselves, but variables that are adjusted on our way to a bigger goal that we're all rooting for.

PS: The TiCats stadium and the 2015 Games was such an opportunity for our city. Our leaders blew it and we literally missed a transformational opportunity of a lifetime.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-01-16 13:41:20

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 13:05:05 in reply to Comment 96868

And once again, Ryan beats me to it...

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 16:20:19

I tried posting something earlier, but it was consider as spam, why I am not sure. There are many factors to consider, stress being one that has affected myself. I do wlak quite a bit since I no longer have a vehicle, which is healthier.

However given this town, those in the suburbs, seem to think they should ahve a bigger say about our streets downtown. I am glad for those who qre quite vocal about making changes.

To make change, then the car needs to become less important, for amny, many reasons. That is going to take a lot of convincing, the masses, who have been brainwashed.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 11, 2014 at 10:11:31

Cause and effect.

Could there possibly be a different cause then the walkability of the neighbourhood? These neighbourhoods are the most expensive ones around so these people have the money to live anywhere they want and yet they choose to live there, must be something attracting them there. These people also have the capacity to eat whatever they want. I suspect their weight has more to do with duck confit and creme brulee then the walkability of their neighbourhood.

If you take a look at our poorest neighbourhoods there is also a huge amount of obesity but that is because they are forced to live on a diet high in the cheapest foods available. Things like rice and pasta. How else can you feed a family of four for $2 than buying a package of pasta for $1 and a can of sauce for the same amount. Nothing to do with walkability of neighbourhood all about the money. Yet you favour spending a billion dollars for LRT.

It's all about cause and affect, you are just jumping at the headlines to make them fit into your narrow vision of our society and your own personal opinions.

Try expanding your vision and getting a grip.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 11, 2014 at 10:21:03 in reply to Comment 98368

Ahh - the obesity problem boils down to all of the duck confit the suburban dwellers are eating. That makes way more sense!

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