Why Your City Planner Is Making You Fat

If we as Americans do one thing well, it’s gaining weight. NIH data shows that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and one-third are obese. Of course we have all heard the usual “lack of diet and exercise” mantra about weight gain. Data certainly backs up our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, such as the fact that the average United States household now spends roughly 8 hours a day with the television on. That being said, what if there was more to the story?

The United States is falling victim to a systematic elimination of the neighborhood. Shopping is occurring more and more at large retail chains (i.e. Walmart, Home Depot, Costco) which require tremendous real estate. Therefore city planners are favoring the creation of sprawling commercial centers where numerous such chains can be built in close proximity to one another, and allow for one-stop shopping.

NeighborhoodThe only place where ample commercial real estate is available is far away from residential areas, and thus the divide begins. Rather than walking several blocks to the local market, customers are forced to get into their car and drive to the commercial center. Because the center is so congested and busy, planners must reroute traffic and build highways with access ramps just to reach the developments, creating more barriers to traveling on foot. Of course the shopping plaza will also have several chain restaurants to choose from so that one doesn’t have to leave the area if they get hungry. This cycle then becomes vicious as the successful center diverts customers away from locally owned shops and restaurants that are available in residential areas, forcing them to close their doors. The end result is that Americans are no longer able to walk anywhere, making our usual form of inadvertent exercise impossible.

The problem of sprawl also compounds the existing dilemmas facing our society as a whole. When people have to drive to get anywhere, our conversations are carried out via cell phone and text messages rather than face to face. Increased sprawl also increases commute times to work, which already average about 50 minutes round trip every day. Added to our ever-lengthening average work week, this cocktail spells increased isolationism and loneliness for our society, which increases food drive.

Take notice of your surroundings, and pay attention to the development projects happening in your neighborhood. Increased sprawl and other such environmental factors may be making an unwitting contribution to our nation’s obesity epidemic.


Weight-control Information Network, NIDDK. Statistics Related to Weight and Obesity.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD Communications Outlook 2007.

U.S. Census Bureau. Americans Spend More Than 100 Hours Commuting to
Work Each Year, Census Bureau Reports. 2005.

Sajid Surve, DO

Sajid Surve, DO, is a physiatrist, acupuncturist, and osteopath who specializes in musculoskeletal medicine and integrative medicine.
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