We recently wrote about how worry can actually make you sick, and it turns out that fear can make you fat?if you’re too afraid of crime in your neighborhood to go out and take a walk.

Older adults living in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods have an increased risk of obesity and this may be due to fear caused by living in areas characterized by crime, disorder and neglect.

Epidemiologist Thomas Glass says, “There is almost a twofold higher chance that you?re going to be obese if you live in the worst neighborhoods. Moreover, the risk is not something that can be explained away by personal variables such as dietary intake, tobacco use and household wealth.”

Previous studies of environmental risk factors for obesity have focused primarily on measures of food availability, such as the concentration of fast food restaurants or barriers to physical activity, such as the absence of sidewalks, parks and recreational facilities.

One of these studies, by Saint Louis University, has picked out the top 10 features of activity-friendly communities. If you weigh more than you should, you probably don’t live in a place like this. The researchers started out with the idea that most Americans don’t move around enough to stay healthy, as earlier studies have shown. We need to get out of our cars and back on our feet, but some neighborhoods are simply not designed for walking. Researcher Brennan Ramirez says, “Our dependence on the car is overwhelming.”

If YOU’RE too fat, measure your town against these standards: Is there a mix of commercial and residential development? Researchers have found that this increases a our desire to be more active. Hiking and biking trails and crosswalks promote walking and bike use. Sidewalks and mass transit support physical activity because they get people out of cars and encourage a more active lifestyle.

People also need a REASON to walk. Monuments and historic attractions encourage people to move about, and people are more inclined to walk in communities that are well maintained and have pleasant things to see.

Researcher Brennan Ramirez says, “We haven’t really designed our communities well for older adults, particularly once they get to the point that they can’t drive. In addition, given concerns about the soaring childhood obesity rates, not having schools located within the neighborhood is a major problem.”

Glass says, “This is an environmental epidemic and it’s going to require environmental solutions. Restoring the health of neighborhoods and communities in cities that have gone into disrepair is something that we?re going to have to take more seriously.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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