Health and Urban Design: Environment over Attitude

Last Thursday, I had a chance to catch Dr. Lawrence Frank as part of the Oregon Environmental Council’s Healthy Environment Forum Series.

Dr. Frank’s work focuses on finding relationships between various factors in the built environment and health outcomes.

Last Thursday, I had a chance to catch Dr. Lawrence Frank as part of the Oregon Environmental Council’s Healthy Environment Forum Series.

Dr. Frank’s work focuses on finding relationships between various factors in the built environment and health outcomes.

For example, he presented a slide that looked at both income and living in a walkable environment as correlated with obesity (his metric for walkability is based on a variety of factors including density of intersections, i.e., an anti-cul-de-sac measure, and presence of neigbhborhood retail uses). The conclusion, income is slightly better predictor (higher income people have better food choices), but the double whammy of being poor in an environment that doesn’t support walking shot off the chart.

Of course, causality is always a question when you look at correlations like this. One thesis would be that the environment isn’t the issue, possibly people who like to walk just move to walkable neighborhoods.

To test this, Dr. Frank cross-tabbed attitudes about walking with environment and actual walking. Of course, people who liked walking walked more than those that didn’t, when controlled for the walkability of the neighborhood. But equally, the more walkable the neighborhood, the more you walk, regardless of your preferences.

So let’s make all our neighborhoods walkable. It should help bring down those health care costs…

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