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August 29, 2005

Chain of Evidence

From CNN, a story suggesting that Oregon's emphasis on pedestrian and bike-friendly cities has helped it keep obesity in check.

According to a study released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based Trust for America's Health, the percentage of overweight Oregonians held steady at 21 percent last year, a sharp contrast to Alabama, where the rate of obesity increased 1.5 percentage points to 27.7 percent.

What makes Oregon different is its emphasis on urban design, which encourages outdoor activities like biking to work, the study's authors said.

Now, obviously, only a small share of Oregon residents walk or bike to work; and many people who do so have farily short commutes. But that's exactly the point:  when it comes to obesity, even a little bit of exercise can make a big difference.  On average, adults put on a pound or two a year -- but a pound of extra weight per year averages out to just 10 calories per day.  That's less than a teaspoon of sugar, or a daily stroll of about a tenth of a mile.  So even though Oregon cities' neighborhood design may have only a small effect on walking and biking, that effect could very well have been enough to keep Oregonians from putting on as much weight as Alabamans.  And by curtailing the growth of obesity, Oregon may have helped keep its citizens healthy, while stemming health care costs--which now account for about one out of every eight dollars Oregonians earn.  Which is one way of responding to people who question whether sidewalks and bike lanes are really worth the cost.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink


I have a sense that a body that "knows" it needs to propel itself (by walking or biking) will be "smart" enough to keep extra weight off. I leave it to medical researchers to fill in the details, but as a hiker/biker I have a strong body-sense that this is correct ;-)

Posted by: odograph | Aug 29, 2005 3:09:25 PM

Excellent way to put it Clark. This is also the reason why so many objected to putting high fructose corn syrup dispensing devices into the schools, and some Boards are now ordering their removal.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Aug 29, 2005 3:26:31 PM

It may be premature to correlate bike and exercise friendliness with this statistic. If it were so, the correlations would bear out for Oregon cities based on their bike-friendliness and human powered recreational facilities. Their rates of obesity would presumably be way down. My observations are that the paunch trends are still pretty evident when one goes out and looks around Eugene, for example. We appear to not necessarily be gaining on the fat monster. I wonder if Oregonians see less junk food advertising or have better access to whole foods. These alternative explainations could also contribute to this statistic.

Posted by: Ethen Perkins | Sep 3, 2005 3:40:33 PM