Monday, December 18, 2006

Suburban Sprawl May Create Heavier Kids

Using data from a national health survey, researchers found that teenagers living in sprawling suburbs were more than twice as likely to be overweight as teens in more compact urban areas.

[. . .]

"In a sprawling suburb, you can do very little on foot," said lead study author Dr. Reid Ewing of the University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth Education and Research.

It's abundantly obvious what the drive-thru-ification of the commercial landscape has done to our bodies. I'm more concerned about its impact on the collective psyche.


Mac said...

Nick Redfern writes:

As a Brit living in the US, I may be able to provide some insights into the "Suburban Sprawl May Create Heavier Kids" posting.
First, I need to stress that this is _not_ at all a case of American bashing.
As you know, my wife is American, and therefore my observations are made out of genuine concern and not criticism.
Having lived in both Europe and the US, I can perhaps offer some insights into why Americans are getting bigger, why diabetes is becoming rampant here, and why health is quite literally on the decline.
It actually comes down to several, surprisingly easy to pinpoint, issues:

1. In America, people don't walk. I was amazed when I first came over here to see hardly any sidewalks. I was amazed to see people actually get into their cars to drive to a 7-11 that was maybe 500 yards from their front door. I watched transfixed one day at our local Wal-Mart watching a guy wait maybe 10 minutes for someone to pull out of a parking space near the main entrance, rather than park in one of the many spaces available perhaps 100 yards away.
In Europe, things are very different. Drive-Thru's are very rare. Towns and villages are geared up to having shopping areas within walking distance of housing areas. I have seen Americans literally open-mouthed in the UK when they see little old ladies of 80 sprightly walking a half mile home with their shopping bags, as fit as they were in their 50s. On the other hand, I have been open-mouthed when I have seen guys my age and younger over here who waddle around like old men, and who are out of breath if they walk more than half a mile.

2. Food: In America, proportions are massively out of control. Food has become God; something to worship. And cholesterol-laden, cheese-dominated food seems to be a particular favorite. I see kids utterly, utterly obsessed with food and eating. The days for them of riding their bikes around town during the holidays and breathing in the summer air are gone - if they even existed for them.
And no walking + a calorie intake that far exceeds what is required = an ever-growing (size-wise) population.

3. Medication: I was equally amazed when I moved over here 6 years ago to learn the sheer number of people who were hooked on prescribed medication for depression, the inability to sleep, the inability to wake up, the list goes on.
Many of these medications can cause weight gain.
America is without any doubt at all, the most technologically advanced and richest nation the planet. Yet., whole swathes of its people are miserable, stressed, frustrated and depressed.
But here's the big problem: in the US there is a large financial incentive to have people hooked on drugs, because many doctors are self-employed or work for privately owned hospitals that derive substantial income from prescribing medications.
Plus, much of US medication and medical advertising is about curing symptoms. You know the thing: "Are you down? Don't feel like you can go on? Those are symptoms of depression. We can cure you of your symptoms with our new wonder drug."
Here's the difference in Europe: we have a National Health service where each person pays a small amount of money into the system each week out of their wages, and as a result, the only thing we pay for are prescriptions. No fees for doctor visits, no fees if you have to go into hospital with a heart attack and you are there for 2 weeks, no deductibles.
But more importantly, reputable doctors in the UK are loathe to put people on depression/anxiety medication to alleviate symptoms. Rather than mask the symptoms and prescribe such medication, they will ask what is causing the depression - An unhappy marriage? A hatred of the boss at work? etc. - and so, what this boils down to is that they will suggest you try and change the things in life that are causing the symptoms, rather than fill you up with certain drugs that - as with food - only add to the ever-expanding waist-line.

4. Stress: I see millions of Americans suffering from stress - which can also cause weight gain. I am amazed when I see people sat at traffic lights, and if the car in front of them does not pull away the absolute second that the lights change, they are screaming at them. It doesn't have to be like this. Come to Europe; go to France, for example, or Italy, where lunches are lighter, people take their time, they don't race their food, there are no stigmas attached to alcohol or sex - both are encouraged and not frowned upon. Very often, a happy, contented person is a slim person.

I have to say that I am truly alarmed by the ever-growing number of Americans I see not walking nowadays, but literally waddling.

Again, none of this should be interpreted as bashing; because that is genuinely and sincerely the last thing it is. I live here, I love living here, and my wife is from here. I am just very concerned at the trend I see (that seems to be progressing at a spiraling rate) of less and less walking, less exercise, bigger portions, more prescribed medication, less people leaving the house at night for fear of getting mugged or shot (so less physical exercise again), and a nation that literally worships food.


W.M. Bear said...

Cause and effect:

McDonalds, Burger King, et al. (pun intended) produce heavier kids!

BTW, I think Nick's observations are all dead on, especially concerning medication. Americans are definitely hooked on prescription medications and, in many cases, I suspect this addiction does contribute to food addiction as well. It is an established fact that a much higher percentage of Americans is overweight today than a few decades ago. The figures are (roughly, from memory): Overweight 60+% of the adult population, clinically OBESE 30+%. In addition to the factors that Nick lists, I think part of the cause is simply consumption itself. America is a consumer society "on acid" (so to speak) and the impulse to consume simply spills over into eating habits, I think.