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Health Place. 2004 Sep;10(3):221-9.

Obesity rates, income, and suburban sprawl: an analysis of US states.

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  • 1School of Business, The College of New Jersey, 2000 Pennington Road, Ewing 08628-0718, USA.


In a decade of economic growth and rising income, obesity has risen dramatically. This is puzzling when researchers have found that there is an inverse relation between income and obesity. This paper argues that new location patterns produced by suburban sprawl are an important cause of rising obesity rates. New location patterns are such that work, school and social activities are not as easily accessible by foot. Changes in sprawl then drive changes in the causes of obesity identified by medical researchers (e.g., low activity levels). We define sprawl as increases in the amount of developed land, holding population constant. Determinants and outcomes are analyzed on a population basis. We use state-level data from the 1990s on obesity to show that states that increased the amount of developed land (holding population constant) showed larger increases in obesity. As a result, town planning efforts to reduce sprawl may be justified not only on aesthetic grounds but also based on efforts to reduce the costs associated with treating medical conditions related to obesity.

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