Category Archives: Suburban Legends: Sprawl and Obesity

Suburban Legends: Sprawl and Obesity

Suburbia with its wide-open spaces was supposed to make us healthy. Now it seems the opposite is true.
1.Birth of sprawl
2.How Sprawl Makes Us Fat

Student Body Craves Attention

School is all about the brain and increasingly very little about the body. Calculus and test-taking have pushed physical education classes off the schedule in most schools in the United States. Results? Not smarter kids as you may expect but sometimes hyperactive kids in need of meds to keep them in their seats and overweight kids with health problems.

Stephen E. Erfle of Dickinson College addressed the issue in a book chapter titled “Analyzing the Effects of Daily Physical Education in Middle Schools on Obesity: Evidence from Pennsylvania’s Active Schools Program” from the 2014 Handbook of Physical Education Research: Role of School Programs, Children’s Attitudes and Health Implications.

The question: Do students at schools with daily PE (minimum 30 minutes) have significantly better outcomes than students at schools without daily PE?

Thirty schools in Pennsylvania with daily PE and nine control—no daily PE– schools took part.


  • Certain programs were deemed more successful.
  • Females had higher treatment effect on health outcomes including body mass index (BMI) changes.
  • Males had  higher treatment effect on behavioral outcomes including changes in curl-ups, push-ups and mile run.

This study from Pennsylvania suggests positive health benefits from daily physical education in the curriculum. Yet state education laws in the United States differ. And the link to weight and other health outcomes is not clear in all cases.

Countries around the world struggle with soaring obesity in their children. It pays to look for inspiration in places where those numbers are less daunting. In some countries, such as Germany, physical exercise is a big part of a young child’s school day but becomes less so in high school. However, the school day at all levels is shorter, allowing ample time for sports which usually take place on club teams.

Perhaps “instruction” in physical education is not the only answer. Instead, a shorter school day with ample resources for basketball or jump rope or community sports would allow more young people to catch the exercise bug.

Book Stores and Beaches Do Mix

Thanks to all who attended my pseudo-TED (Truly Enlightening Discourse) talk in Santa Monica on Saturday at Barnes & Noble on 3rd Street Promenade.I know it wasn’t easy given that the awesome SoCal beach was just two blocks away. There are still a few signed copies of Globesity: 10 Things You Didn’t Know Were Making You Fat available at the store (call 310 260 9110 to reserve or order). Hannah, thanks for the deck work. Frank, thanks for the lovely event set-up.

FYI: TED’s mission statement:

“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other…”

Community of curious souls. I’d be honored to be part of that.

The Plots Thicken

Suburban life has been implicated in the obesity epidemic. Yet the proof is not as  solid as some research contends.

That is one conclusion from a new report from MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism. The research from the center along with the American Institute of Architects discusses public health issues in eight large metropolitan areas of the United States and offers solutions. Alan Berger, the main author, talked about the findings with MIT News. Here is some of what he had to say about suburbia and obesity:

If someone says to you that suburbanites are heavier because they drive more, it’s not been proven true. The studies [on this] are actually fairly soft. If you look at these eight cities, 83 percent of the suburban counties ranked healthier than their central city, using widely accepted health-risk factors. …Also, the idea of the food desert is largely fiction. There’s access to decent food pretty much across the metropolitan areas. In our cities the proximity to fast food doesn’t directly lead to poor urban health; there’s proximity to fast food everywhere. The question is how you get people to choose the right foods. “

Thus, the controversy continues.