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Posts from the "Obesity" Category

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More Walking and Biking, Better Health: New Evidence From American Cities

States with higher rates of walking and biking to work tend to have lower rates of diabetes. Click to enlarge. All graphics: Alliance for Biking and Walking

New data from the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking report bears out the notion that people tend to be healthier in cities where walking and biking are more prevalent.

The Alliance compiled active commuting rates in the 50 largest American cities as measured by the U.S. Census. Then it compared that data with health information from the CDC. On health outcomes like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, a pretty clear correlation emerges.

Not all of it can be explained by active commuting, of course. But notice how, in the top chart, as statewide active transportation rates increase, diabetes rates decline.

About 9 percent of Americans have diabetes, but the incidence varies greatly between different places. Diabetes tracks closely enough with walk and bike commute rates that the Alliance and other researchers have concluded there’s a strong correlation.

Rates of elevated blood pressure display a similar pattern:

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TED Talk: OKC Mayor Mick Cornett on Designing a City for Fitness

I got to know Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett last year, when I interviewed him at the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors. We talked about his realization that he and his constituents (generally speaking) were obese, and how he stood in front of the elephants at the zoo on New Year’s Eve six years ago and announced that the city was going on a diet. He set out to have the residents of Oklahoma City lose a million pounds — and the city achieved it.

In a TED talk taped in April and posted online last week, Cornett tells the story of how OKC went from being ranked by Men’s Fitness magazine among America’s fattest cities to being ranked as one of the fittest.

“I started examining my city — its culture, its infrastructure — trying to figure out why our city seemed to have a problem with obesity,” Cornett says. “And I came to the conclusion that we had built an incredible quality of life if you happened to be a car. But if you happened to be a person, you were combating the car seemingly at every turn.”

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Study: Kids Who Live in Walkable Neighborhoods Get More Exercise

A study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Health finds that children who live in walkable places — “smart growth neighborhoods,” to use the authors’ phrase — get significantly more exercise than their peers who live in suburban environments designed for driving.

Kids who live in a community planned for walkability got significantly more daily physical activities than those who lived in sprawling places. Image: American Journal of Preventative Medicine

Researchers from UC Berkeley monitored the activity of 59 children living at The Preserve — a planned community near Chino, California, designed to be more walkable than conventional subdivisions — using GPS tracking monitors and accelerometers worn on the waist. They were compared to a control group of 88 kids from eight nearby “conventional” communities, with similar demographic and income characteristics. All the children were between ages 8 and 14.

The research team found that children living in the smart growth neighborhood got ten more minutes of physical activity per day than kids in the more sprawling communities. That translates to 46 percent more exercise for children in walkable communities.

“We were surprised by the size of the effect,” lead author Michael Jerrett, Ph.D., professor in the School of Public Health at Berkeley, told Science Daily. “Ten minutes of extra activity a day may not sound like much, but it adds up.”

The research team said developing smart growth communities and retrofitting existing neighborhoods for greater walkability could be key to helping kids get the recommended level of physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control recommend 60 minutes of daily aerobic activity for children. In America, only 42 percent of children ages 6 to 11 meet this threshold. Among children ages 12 to 19, only 8 percent get recommended levels.

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Liberating the Schoolyard

For a time, a few years back, my friends and I used to play pick-up soccer every Sunday at a high school in my neighborhood. As many as 30 people, mostly adults in their twenties and thirties, would show up for a match on a particularly nice day. New moms would bring their babies to cheer on their husbands. It was good, clean fun. But then one Sunday in August we showed up at the soccer field and found the gate locked. Apparently, there had been an instance of vandalism — and that was it, we were locked out. And that was the end of our soccer matches.

Opening schoolyards to the general public is seen as a promising strategy against the obesity epidemic. Image: SIlive.com

Locked-up schoolyards are pretty common across the United States. They might be active places, but only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and only nine months a year. Many times, concerns about liability or crime close off schoolyards off to the greater community.

A new initiative from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership aims to correct that. As part of the larger fight to curb obesity, SRTS is taking on what are known as “shared use agreements.” These agreements help maximize the benefits of public land by formally opening schoolyards, tracks, and even gymnasiums that were once off-limits to the general public — and even to school kids after school hours were over.

“We want the kids to have a place to play beyond the school day,” said Mikaela Randolph, who is leading the initiative, “but we also want the parent to have a place to be active as well. We really see that as an opportunity for modeling an active lifestyle. It increases the feeling of community, you get to know your neighbors, it’s kind of a convening space for multiple generations.”

The SRTS National Partnership will be working with states across the U.S. to help establish the legal groundwork for shared use agreements. They are being supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s anti-obesity initiative.

Some schools already have informal shared-use agreements, places where there’s a culture of community ownership — like our soccer grounds, pre-vandalism. But others need special encouragement and assistance.

As the benefits of shared use have gained wider recognition, there has been an increase in the number of communities seeking formal agreements. Randolph said no one is really sure how many shared use agreements currently exist across the United States. But part of her work may include mapping these innovators and developing a catalog of best practices.

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Celebrate Bike to Work Week, No Matter What You Weigh

Happy Bike to Work Week, everybody! It’s a great time to give a gentle nudge to someone who you think would benefit from biking. In that vein, personal trainer and fitness coach Stephanie Averkamp of San Diego posted this infographic to her personal health website. She says she especially hopes to convince overweight and obese people to bike more.

“Biking’s a great exercise because it supports 50 to 70 percent of their body weight,” Averkamp told me. “It’s not like running. It’s something they can do without the extra weight and impact on their joints.” She said biking is a great way to get exercise outside of a gym, which can be intimidating and unpleasant.

She encourages people to start by biking halfway to work. “That counts!” she says.

Infographic after the jump.
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Study: Car Commuters Put on More Weight Than Active Commuters

Going to the gym may not be enough to keep off the pounds if you drive to work. That’s the result of a study published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Bike commuters gain less weight than car commuters, an Australian study found. Image: Bikes Belong

According to an Australian research team, active commuting is an effective defense against gaining weight. Among a sample of 822 Australian adults tracked over four years, people who walked or biked to work gained about two pounds less, on average, than daily car commuters.

Lead researcher Takemi Sugiyama, a behavioral epidemiologist at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, said it may be difficult for people who drive to work to find the extra time to devote to exercise.

“In order to achieve the level of physical activity needed to prevent weight gain, it may be more realistic to accumulate physical activity through active transport, rather than adding exercise to weekly leisure-time routines,” she told the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health.

The study found that engaging in “sufficient leisure-time physical activity” also helped people avoid weight gain, but that car commuters who exercised regularly in their free time still put on more pounds than active commuters.

Street conditions, of course, will have to improve to make active commuting a viable option for more people in the U.S. “For most Americans, it is challenging to find a safe route to work or shopping due to factors such as traffic concerns, lack of sidewalks, or protected bike paths,” said Penny Gordon-Larsen, a public health expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Health Behavior News Service.

Hat tip to Jay Walljasper at Bikes Belong for bringing this to our attention.

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Study: Access to Light Rail Can Reduce Obesity Risk — If You Use It

Living near transit can help you stay trim and healthy. That’s the result of a study published last year in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. This study is a little old — it was published in August 2011 — but we just came across it in the Reconnecting America resource center and the results are too interesting not to share.

Transit riders in Charlotte North Carolina are 81 percent less likely to be obese than those who drive to work. Photo: Forbes

A team of social scientists and public health experts examined the health effects of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Lynx light rail line, which was installed in 2007. The study was designed to avoid a common problem in studies of transit’s impact on health: selection bias. People who are already active may choose urban, transit-accessible neighborhoods to suit their preexisting lifestyles. In this study, however, the researchers only looked at those who lived along the Lynx route both before and after light rail arrived.

The light rail riders’ Body Mass Index, the researchers found, fell by an average of 1.18 points compared to those who didn’t ride the system. That translates into a loss of about six and a half pounds for a person who is 5-feet, 5-inches tall. In addition, light rail users were 81 percent less likely to become obese over time.

The results were weighted to control for education, age, race gender, distance to work, neighborhood features and other factors that might skew the results.

Researchers said the weight loss reported by subjects was consistent with adding as much as 1.2 miles walking to a person’s daily routine. All the subjects lived within one mile of the light rail corridor, which has surpassed ridership expectations.

“The results of this study suggest that improving neighborhood environments and increasing the public’s use of LRT systems could provide improvements in health outcomes for millions of individuals,” the authors concluded. “Public policy investments in transit should consider potential increases in physical activity as part of the broader set of cost–benefit calculations of transit systems.”

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Maps Show Striking Link Between Car Commuting and Obesity

Check out these two maps, the first showing obesity rates (by county) in the United States and the second showing the percentage of commuters who travel by car (via Planetizen).

Obesity rates are highest in Appalachia and the Southeast United States. Image: Planetizen

A map showing the percentage of car commuters shows a strikingly similar pattern.

Researchers Anne Price and Ariel Godwin at Planetizen caution readers not to conflate correlation and causation. However, when comparing other economic and demographic characteristics (unemployment, educational attainment, income), no other maps displayed such striking similarities.

Furthermore, when the research team created a scatterplot comparing obesity rates in U.S. counties with commuting patterns, a “strong relationship” emerged.

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