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More on the No Sidewalks-Obesity Link

I've blogged before about the link between unwalkable towns and obesity. Now comes word from Nature of a recent conference focused on this very issue:

Public-health officials in the United States are proposing a new and drastic way to fight the onslaught of obesity: they want to redesign entire towns to make them exercise-friendly...

Many recent health campaigns urge people to walk, cycle or be otherwise active during the day. But that's easier said than done; in a typical US housing estate, the only way to reach workplaces, shops and schools is by car. Many streets lack pavements, and cycle paths are virtually unheard of.

To really fight the flab, US public-health officials are now realizing that they may have to change the entire layout of towns. The suburban mansion and sport-utility vehicle (SUV) may fulfil the American dream, they say, but it is taking an unforeseen toll on health.

One study from last year compared the health of people living in foot-friendly city areas with that of those dwelling in sprawling, car-dependent suburbs. People's average weight and level of hypertension rose along with the degree of sprawl...

To tackle the problem, obesity experts, town planners and architects, among others, came together in Washington DC last week to focus on obesity and the built environment. Delegates were queuing up to attend the conference, says organizer Allen Dearry of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. "It struck a nerve," he says.

I'm about to move from the small town of Apex (population 20,212) to the larger town of Cary (population 94,536). I've never seen a greenway in Apex (though supposedly they exist), and there are no sidewalks that traverse it. Meanwhile, Cary is criss-crossed with greenways, and has an extensive (though incomplete) network of sidewalks.

The irony of this is that I've had to give up walking for exercise -- to try to let the inflamed cartilage in my knee heal, I'm avoiding any lower-body impact exercise (running, walking, etc.) aside from soccer, which I refuse to give up. On non-soccer days, it's the elliptical machines at the gym for me. But still... it will be nice knowing the trails and sidewalks are there when my knee is better.

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