Americans have been gradually getting fatter every year since World War II, and more and more of us have moved to the suburbs during that time, as well. Researchers now think it may be the suburbs that make us fat.

Researcher Arlin Wasserman noticed that when he moved from his native Philadelphia, where he biked everywhere, he gained weight every time. “The move to Ann Arbor, where I logged 15,000 miles a year driving, gained me 15 pounds, even though I was still biking to work,” he says. “But the move to Traverse City gained me another 20.”

“It’s not just a matter of our having ‘super-sized’ our meals or that we don?t exercise enough,” says public health researcher Thomas Schmid. He thinks Americans are the victims of life style changes where we drive everywhere, rather than walk or bike. Many suburbs don’t even have sidewalks, and are near busy expressways, where it’s dangerous to walk.

The scale of the obesity epidemic, and the speed with which it?s grown, mean it can’t be laziness or genetics alone that are causing the problem. Researcher Lawrence Frank says, “We know that if you look at all the factors that have come into play during the last two decades, one of the most significant is that people are driving more and more and have less time for discretionary, leisure activities.”

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