Web Zap*Germs Archive

June 18, 2005

More Light on Obesity Studies

It's not clear to me if this is what the CDC was up to, when it sent a team of infectious-diseases specialists to West Virginia to study the state's "outbreak" of obesity. If so, however, the CDC's action makes a little more sense.

The linked US News article describes a project in rural Missouri that took a holistic look at how the manmade environment contributes to an unhealthy lifestyle, and what could be done about it. Ross Brownson found that people were getting fat partly because of circumstances beyond their immediate control.
Research on the health effects of the "built environment" -- as roads, buildings, and manmade structures are called -- is in its infancy. But a growing number of scientists are looking beyond symptoms and treatments to see how aspects of social planning -- zoning, transportation, school siting -- contribute to rising rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and other diseases.
Anyone who has been bused to a school miles from home can appreciate this:
School siting is just one example from the built-environment agenda, but it has sparked particularly heated debate. The trend to large, distant schools began in the 1950s, as people moved to the suburbs. School districts sought lower land costs, as well as space for sports fields and modern science labs. One unforeseen consequence of these well-intentioned policies was elimination of the schools that had glued "walkable" neighborhoods together.

"If you look at how schools were built in the past, they were these gorgeous civic structures, centrally located, the heart of the community, and students were proud to go to them," says David Salvesen, a professor at the University of North Carolina. "Now we have these buildings that look like shoe factories on the edge of town."

An effort to save older neighborhood schools and to build the new ones smaller is gaining strength. In addition, an international program called Safe Routes to School works in communities to make walking and biking to school easier.
There's much more of interest in the article. I'm surprised, however, that the influence of Jane Jacobs went unmentioned.


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