Urban Sprawl Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

A new study identifies a potential cause of the increasing incidences of diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

| March/April 2002

The report, “Creating a Healthy Environment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health,” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that the increasing incidence of diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma is related to the proliferation of lower-density suburbs on the periphery of major job centers. “We see evidence every day that Americans exercise less often and suffer higher levels of stress than in the past. Yet we often fail to make the connection between these all-too-common facets of everyday life and how unhealthy we are,” the report states. “As America increasingly becomes a nation that permits and even encourages thoughtless development and unmanaged growth, the impact of these factors grows clearer and we ignore them at our own peril.”

Increased commuting has caused more respiratory ailments; sedentary, automobile-based lifestyles have lead to more overweight or obese adults (rising from 47 percent in 1976 to 61 percent in 1999); and in the last eight years about 850 people have died in floods as a result of weak zoning laws that let developers build on flood plains, the report concludes. Its authors call for “smart growth” policies and cooperation between public health officials and community planners.

The National Association of Home Builders was quick to attack the report. “For one thing, the authors seem to have forgotten that people often prefer living in the suburbs,” stated NAHB president Bruce Smith.

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