Is swapping the suburbs for city life the best way to beat obesity?

Diets and exercise programs might have to make space for a third weapon in the fight against obesity – swapping the suburbs for European-style city centres. If we did, we could all be slimmer and healthier, according to a new study.

The study (by Sarkar et al.) published last month in The Lancet challenges popular beliefs about city life, saying that you’re probably better off living in the city than in the suburbs.

The researchers used data for 419,562 adult men and women aged 37-73 years, from 22 cities across the UK, and found that people living in built-up residential areas have lower levels of obesity than residents in scattered, suburban homes.

“Below a residential density of 1,800 units per km2 was associated with higher BMI, waist circumference, and whole body fat, and with increased odds of obesity. Above 1,800 units per km2, residential density has a protective effect across all the markers of adiposity, being beneficially associated with BMI, waist circumference and whole body fat, and with decreased odds of obesity,” the study says.

So why is obesity less common in densely built areas? The answer is walkability. “As cities get more and more compact, they become more walkable. In denser residential areas, they are better designed and more attractive destinations. We are less dependent on our cars and use public transport more,” co-author Chinmoy Sarkar was quoted as saying in an interview with Reuters.

In other words, being close to things and having more opportunities to build your social networks might actually lead to a more active and healthier life.

Author: Ann Eshaw

Posted in Editorial, Mainsite

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