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Your neighbourhood affects your BMI — in unexpected ways

September 28th, 2010

Researchers at the University of Alberta just published some interesting data from a six-year longitudinal study looking at links between neighbourhoods, physical activity and body-mass index. Of the people who moved during the study, those who chose new neighbourhoods based in part on walkability maintained their weight (as expected), while those who chose locations based on proximity to outdoor recreation opportunities (surprisingly) gained weight.

This is by no means a perfectly controlled experiement — for example, as the researchers point out, it could be that the subjects choosing to live near outdoor recreation were doing so primarily for their kids. But it certainly fits with other data, like the fact that New York City — highly walkable but terrible for outdoor recreation opportunities —  is among the thinnest cities in the U.S. (42% of people there were overweight, compared to 67% nationally, according to a 2009 study). And it underlines the point that a healthy lifestyle is more dependent on the little things you do on a daily basis, rather than the big excursions you make on weekends.


  1. barnee
    September 28th, 2010 at 13:14 | #1

    Hello! ok. I see how this could work (more outdoor rec opportunities -> less density -> increased likelihood of driving to places instead of walking -> weight gain) — but is it fair to use NYC as an example? Seems like walkability is the least of the factors going on there. Even in the article you linked to, fashion and social pressure are way prominent. One might also say more density -> more consciousness about how people look -> more pressure to be/look healthy/better -­> dieting -> weight loss. — which doesn’t have much to do with actual walking…
    I’m curious about how a city like Seattle stacks up.

  2. September 28th, 2010 at 14:43 | #2

    A lot of this type of information is mentioned in the great book, “American Idle”, by Mary Collins. I lucked out in that I have a grocery store near my apartment in North Florida, but that is about all I can walk to.

  3. September 28th, 2010 at 15:14 | #3

    I’m glad I’ve been walking to work for the last 2+ years! Sometimes I put in over 45 minutes of walking in a day, in addition to the 60-90 minutes of running I normally do. Feels good to move.

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