How do you get around? Car rental? Taxi services? Your own vehicle? Or are you part of the very small sub section of our society who can get from point A to point B by cycling or walking? If you can attest to the latter get up and give a big whoop of satisfaction you have just decreased your chances of becoming obese and suffering associated illnesses dramatically.
Obesity has become a worldwide phenomenon and a multitude of health concerns and societal issues follow in its wake. Research (and a good helping of common sense) shows the main causes for its pandemic hold on our communities to include a sedentary lifestyle, socioeconomic factors and of course, diet.
Ever since the advent of the Industrial Age we, as a society, have strived to engineer habitats that focus on mass efficiency rather than accessibility. The result is urban sprawl. Airport car rentals are at an all time high, which show how inaccessible our cities have become to visitors. Studies have now found a link between the built environment people live in and a propensity for obesity. According to the findings of this research there exists a correlation between the amount of time per day a person spends in a car and the likelihood that they would become obese. Furthermore, the amount of time a person spends in a car is linked to the type of built environment they live in. Suburban dwellers spend a significantly greater portion of time in cars than urbanites, and if these studies are to be believed each hour spent in a car daily is associated with a whopping 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity. Cheap car rental and taxi services are available to all and people tend to prefer the convenience of this type of transport to walking.
Sprawling suburban areas contribute to a sedentary lifestyle due to a lack of sidewalks, road patterns and traffic regulations that hamper travel on foot and shopping areas that are inaccessible without use of a automobile. Residential areas like these are more often than not only linked to other destinations by means of high speed arterial roads. These highways are designed to facilitate swift travel by rental cars and privately owned automobiles, but cycling or walking can be uncomfortable and in some cases just plain dangerous.
Hippocrates once stated that “Corpulence is not only a disease itself, but the harbinger of others”. Obesity is linked to a number of serious illnesses that include hypertension, diabetes mellitus, cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. When one takes into account the structure of most healthcare systems around the globe communal funds that see every member contributing equally whether or not they withdraw from it equally it can be argued that obesity causes an unnecessary and preventable drain of resources that could have been distributed to more worthy recipients.
Addressing these issues is essential both for personal health and for the long-term health of our communities. The first step would be to make our communities more walkable. This can be achieved by investing in improved facilities for biking and walking, implementing traffic calming measures to slow down cars, or by creating safe routes that focus on helping kids walk and bike to school. Prevention is always better than cure and teaching children the value of exercise at a young age will go a long way in ensuring the next generation do not inherit our bad habits.
Car rental, taxi services and private automobiles might be very convenient and of course have their place in our society, but as with all things in life we should learn to practise moderation. A simple walk around the block at lunch time or taking the stairs instead of the lift can improve your health and overall well-being. So next time you are getting in your car to drive the 300 meters down the road to the corner store, reconsider. Those few steps might just save your life.