Obesity: where you live affects your weight
Posted by kathryn in Uncategorized
During a previous Q & A Thursday, Andrew asked about the causes of obesity. While the core of maintaining a healthy weight is about your personal habits, on a broader scale obesity is a complex condition. In my previous post I looked at some of the ways stress impacts obesity and today’s post is on how society can affect an individual’s health and weight.
This is not a comprehensive study, instead I’m going to dip into two areas – city planning and community attitudes – to highlight ways in which these can affect health.
The way our cities are planned affects the health of the population. In Sydney, the City sprawls over a large area. Where I live, I’m close to public transport and have a choice of local shops within a 15 minute walking radius. I’m 10 minutes from the harbour, where there’s a walking track around the water, which is beautiful. If I want to go out to dinner, for coffee, or to see a movie, there’s a choice of suburbs all within walking or cycling distance. On the other hand, the roads are busy round here and it’s hard to find a parking spot – without paying a fortune.
Living in this area therefore, encourages me to walk. In my day-to-day life, it’s easier for me to walk or catch public transport, than it is to drive. Even if I haven’t done any official “exercise” in a day, I’ve still walked a minimum of 20 minutes and usually more.
If you contrast this to other parts of Sydney, where amenities are spread out. It’s harder for people in these area to get the daily incidental exercise crucial to maintaining a healthy weight. If the roads where you live are unsafe, your local shops are a few kilometres away and there’s no public transport, then you’re more likely to drive everywhere. Sitting in your car, being sedentary, driving from door-to-door, means your opportunities to walk and move during the day are profoundly reduced.
Earlier in the year I posted about a University of Melbourne study which looked at how where you live affects your health. In this study, the more fast food restaurants and fewer walking tracks in an area, the more unhealthy its residents. If the walking areas are perceived as unsafe, again, people are more likely to drive.
The attitudes of people within a society can also impact our health. If good food and exercise are valued by the community, then individuals are more likely to eat well and do more. If our friends exercise, watch their weight and are concerned about their health, then we are more likely to as well. Our concept of what’s healthy can also change depending on where we live. Research from the US shows that as the number of people overweight and obese has increased, so has the idea of an ideal weight.
The Shape Up Somerville programme offers a great example of what happens when a community gets together to address childhood obesity. In Somerville, obesity is being addressed in the classroom, at the school canteen, with parents, in local restaurants and in the community as a whole.
By providing parents with information on safe walking tracks and teaching children it was healthier to walk, the kids are being more active. Local restaurants are offering healthier meals, while healthy eating has become part of the school curriculum and food at the canteen has improved.
Wherever we live we can still choose to eat well and exercise – our health, is still our own responsibility. However, where we live can make a difference. In a busy life, if eating well and exercising are easy, then we’ll do more of it and are more likely to curb obesity and be healthier.
You might also be interested in Ross Gittins thoughts, he gives an economists perspective on obesity.