Sunday, July 11, 2010

Does your neighborhood make you fat?

Does where you live impact your physical health? Researchers are looking for a link to just that. Physical health, measured through body mass index (BMI) is a combination of several complex relationships in a person’s life. Researchers have linked it to living environment and neighborhood driving conditions are just a handful of influencing factors for BMI.

What is BMI?

The body mass index is a number that is a ratio of weight to height. Calculators can be found anywhere online. A BMI of less than 18 is seen as being underweight. Normal range is anywhere from 18.5 to 24.9. The overweight range is 25-29.9. The extremely dangerous range is the obese with a BMI of 30 or more. Recent reports from the CDC states that Americans have grown from the average BMI of 25 to 28. As a nation we went from the edge of normal to the edge of overweight bordering on obese. This increase has scientist in a scramble to discover what is driving the dramatic gain.

What relationship to your neighborhood and your health?

Scientists are looking for connections to out BMI and our environment. The most recent was conducted in a neighborhood study by a team of researchers in various fields of at the University of Buffalo. They had three significant findings. First, the larger the number of restaurants within a five minute walk of the person’s house results has a higher BMI. Second, women who reside closer to supermarkets and grocery stores tend to have lower BMIs. Third, they found that the interaction of food environment and the structural environment has a huge impact on obesity. If the land is used diversely meaning there are parks and trails near home it is beneficial for promoting physical activity but when there are more restaurants then the BMI increases.

Another study, related to a person’s physical environment was published earlier in the year by the University of Alberta. They focused on the perceived traffic in a neighborhood and its relation to BMI. The biggest surprise for researchers was when people believed that traffic was bad in their neighborhoods they had a higher BMI. Researchers failed to connect the participant’s level of physical activity to the study. They did find that the neighborhoods social economic status and the age of did have a connection. The oldest and poorest neighborhoods had the highest BMI.

Tanya Berry, leader of the UA study suggest that there are three D’s of a neighborhoods walkability: diversity, density and design. Berry explained that lower income neighborhoods many times would rank high in all of the three D’s but it is their perception of their environment that keeps them from going out into it. They fear for their safety and stay inside. Combining the studies, it is not only your environment but how you see your environment.  See the benefits and use them and your body will reap the benefits. 
In conclusion

Environment and the how we see our environment impacts our health. Instead of walking to that nearby restaurant go to the grocery store next door. The key is to walk. Walking in your neighborhood and other regular physical activity is what can keep us all healthy.

1 comment:

  1. Val,
    I am loving your blog! Mostly I am impressed that you are able to say things that I am too shy (embarrassed?) to say and that you are facing some of the same boogy-men. blessings to you girl-friend--