Plan to Walk for Health
Can something as simple as urban planning and design make a dent in the obesity and diabetes epidemics? The answer is yes, according to information presented at the American Diabetes Association's 74th Scientific Sessions, in San Francisco, California this month. Specifically, when neighborhoods are designed to be walking-friendly, as opposed to automobile-centric, people tend to be substantially less obese, and less likely to develop diabetes.
More walkable neighborhoods feature less sprawl, more interconnectivity among streets, and more stores and services within walking distance. The incidence of diabetes among people living in the most walkable neighborhoods in a Canadian city was 13% lower than it was among people living in the least-walkable neighborhoods. Another way of looking at it this: the greater the urban sprawl, the worse public health outcomes are likely to be.
The way we design and build our cities and neighborhoods matters, say experts. "This is one piece of a puzzle that we can potentially do something about," said researcher Gillian Booth, MD, in a press release. Booth is an Endocrinologist and Research Scientist at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto.
Diabetes was the lowest in neighborhoods that were judged to be "most walkable." In these neighborhoods, the incidence of diabetes dropped by seven percent over the course of 10 years. In contrast, the least walkable neighborhoods in the study witnessed a six percent increase in diabetes cases. Overweight and obesity also followed similar trends, according to the walkability of a given neighborhood. Tellingly, these risk factors for heart disease and other illnesses dropped in the most walkable neighborhoods. In the least walkable areas, overweight and obesity rose an alarming 13 percent. People were more likely to walk or ride bicycles in walkable neighborhoods, and less likely to jump in the car.