living in the suburbs

While living in the city presents a slew of health risks like increased exposure to pollution and a higher risk of allergies, living in the suburbs is proving to have its own limitations and risk factors. Namely, there’s a strong link to obesity, according to new research, particularly if you live near “big box” retailers like Walmart and Target.

It’s not just that living in the suburbs is often equated with (especially for children) sitting in front of the television or playing video games more than people living in urban environments, but it’s the street layouts, says the researchers from the University of Connecticut and University of Colorado.

The research, published online in the Journal of Transport & Health, found that multi-lane streets common in the suburbs are to blame. These major throughways are less conducive to walking or even biking than busy city streets, found the researchers. “The role of the street network and how we put together the bones of our communities should not be overlooked as a potential contributing factor to health outcomes,” they wrote.

Those busy roads also mean the greater likelihood of big box retailers, fast food chains and other strip mall options that also tend to sell less healthy options, further increasing the risk for obesity and diet-related illnesses such as diabetes.

When big box stores are present in a suburban neighborhood, there’s what the researchers indicate is “poor walkability” and nearly a 25 percent higher rate of diabetes than urban environments and nearly a 14 percent higher rate of obesity.

“Taken together these findings suggest a need to radically rethink how we design and build the streets and street networks that form the backbone of our cities, towns, and villages,” the researchers said in a press statement. “This research is one more in a long line that demonstrates the myriad advantages of fostering walkable places.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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