Study: Living in the Suburbs Can Make You Sick
our health, the study suggests we should build cities where people feel
comfortable walking and are not so dependent on cars
Monday, Sep 27, 2004
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Living in the suburbs may have once been part of
the American dream but it can lead to nightmares such as high blood
pressure, arthritis and headaches, researchers reported on Monday. An adult
living somewhere like Atlanta, with its spread-out suburbs and car-heavy
culture, will have a health profile that looks like that of someone who
lives in Seattle -- but who is four years older, the study found.
And the culprit seems to be exercise, or the lack of it, the researchers
report in the October issue of the journal Public Health.
"This is the first study that analyzes suburban sprawl and a broad range
of chronic health conditions," said Roland Sturm, an economist at the Rand
Corp.'s Rand Health unit who helped write the study.
"We know from previous studies that suburban sprawl reduces the time
people spend walking and increases the time they spend sitting in cars, and
that is associated with higher obesity rates. This probably plays an
important role in the health effects we observe."
The differences between city and suburban people held even when Sturm's
team took into account factors such as age, economic status, race and the
"To improve our health, the study suggests that we should build cities
where people feel comfortable walking and are not so dependent on cars,"
said Deborah Cohen, another Rand researcher.
There was no link between suburban sprawl and mental health. The RAND
team found no differences in the rates of depression, anxiety and
psychological well-being between people living in downtown areas and those
The Rand team looked at a survey of 8,600 people funded by the Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation. These people, living in 38 metropolitan areas
across the country, were asked a variety of questions about their health and
well-being in 1998 and 2001.
It defined sprawling suburban areas as those with poorly connected
streets such as cul-de-sacs, separated areas for schools, housing and shops
and a lower population density.
The most extreme examples included the Riverside-San Bernardino region of
California, Atlanta and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Dense urban areas where people lived close to each other and the schools
and shops included New York City, San Francisco and Boston.
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