It is no surprise that obesity is becoming an increasingly prominent health concern. In fact, since 1980 global obesity has almost doubled. (1) “The percentage of children aged 6-11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.” (2) “35% of adults aged 20 and over were overweight in 2008, and 11% were obese.” (1) To put these percentages into perspective, in 2008 the world population was at almost 7 billion, more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight, roughly 500 million were obese. (1) Obesity can no longer simply be a concern; it is a real problem that requires a real solution.
Obesity is a complex problem. By definition expelling fewer calories than those in took is what causes obesity. (2) However, the severity of this problem shows that it is considerably more multifaceted than that definition implies. Unlike contagious diseases and viruses, there is no one unambiguous origin. While genetics do influence body processes that would affect obesity, the exponential increase in obesity over a rather short period of time implies that overall genetics has played a minimal roll in the growth of global obesity. (3) Thus, changes in environmental factors must be responsible. Environmental factors can be split into two main categories, nutrition and physical activity. There have been many variations to the society norm for both nutrition and physical activity in recent years. Nutritional changes include: increased sugar consumption, larger portion sizes, availability of calorie-dense foods, location of food consumption, increased food advertisements, food availability, etc. (1,7) Physical activity changed dramatically with increases in those working sedentary jobs and using motorized transportation. (7) There is an enormous amount of research on these factors and knowledge of the issue is rather commonplace; yet, the problem still exists. Many put the blame on the individual, but in the past thirty years childhood obesity has more than doubled and adolescent obesity has quadrupled; obesity is clearly not just an individual problem. (2) In fact, the environment may be to blame. Rapid urbanization and the development of suburbs may have developed a huge environmental impact on a global problem.
Many of the issues with both nutrition and physical activity can be directly connected to flaws in urban design. It is evident that built environments can effect and has affected physical activity, sedentary behaviors and physical fitness, and consequently health. (10) “Studies on sprawl and public health have found that increased levels of sprawl are associated with increased obesity, decreased physical activity and poorer health.” (9)
Certain features of the built environment –such as the presence of sidewalks, streetlights,...