Pedestrian-Friendly Communities Make For More Active Older Adults
The researchers weren't able to determine if "walkable" communities also translate to fewer fat people. But the findings still will be useful for planners and others who want to create better neighborhoods, said lead author Ethan Berke, M.D., an assistant professor at Dartmouth Medical School.
"What this says is that where you live might have an effect on your ability to be active," Berke said. "I can't go as far as to say that walkability [relates to] obesity or causes you to be more or less active, but this is a study that at least discovers an association."
Berke, a family physician, said he's long suspected that obesity is caused by more than just one's person's choices. Other factors play a role, including "the influence of environment and where people live on their ability to be active and [take part in] activities."
To get a handle on the effects of neighborhood design, Berke and a team of University of Washington urban planning specialists created a measurement of neighborhood "walkability" and applied it to communities in the Seattle region.
The measurement looked at about 200 factors, including slope of the land, mix of residents and businesses and proximity to grocery stores.
The concept of walkability is "more than just being near a hiking trail or bicycle trail," Berke said. "It's having an opportunity to walk to places you'd have to go to anyway a school, bank, post office or restaurant."
The researchers then looked at the results of a survey of 936 people, ages 65 to 97, to see how the walkability scores of their neighborhoods affected their lives.
The study findings appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Men living in more walkable neighborhoods were about six times more likely to walk for exercise, and women were 75 percent more likely to walk for exercise.
In recent years, housing developers have been trying to create pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, said Kim Kilkenny, executive vice president with the Otay Ranch housing development near San Diego.
Some developers have returned to grid systems, while those sticking with cul-de-sacs have equipped them with pass-throughs so they aren't dead ends for pedestrians.
"A neighborhood works better if you can walk around the block," Kilkenny said.
The American Journal of Public Health is the monthly journal of the American Public Health Association. Visit http://www.apha.org for more information.
Berke EM, et al. Association of the built environment with physical activity and obesity in older persons. Am J Public Health 97(3), 2007.
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