How the Weighty Issue of City Life Is Making Us Fatter; the Way Our Towns and Cities Are Designed Is Making People Unhealthy and Overweight, Two North East Academics Have Warned. NICOLA JUNCAR Reports

The Journal (Newcastle, England), July 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

How the Weighty Issue of City Life Is Making Us Fatter; the Way Our Towns and Cities Are Designed Is Making People Unhealthy and Overweight, Two North East Academics Have Warned. NICOLA JUNCAR Reports


Byline: NICOLA JUNCAR

DRIVING to work, the supermarket and your children's school isn't just hurting the environment, new research claims: it's making you fat.

Modern cities are centred around the car. According to Tim Townshend, director of planning and urban design at Newcastle University, that approach to urban planning is beginning to show in our waistlines.

Now he has co-edited a book called Obesogenic Environments with Dr Amelia Lake, a senior lecturer in food and nutrition at Northumbria University, which says urban designers have a responsibility to tackle the rising levels of obesity. Mr Townshend said: "Our urban landscape is full of shopping malls and fast food restaurants, escalators and huge car parks with people battling to get the space closest to the doors so they don't have to walk very far.

"These environments are simply not designed for people to walk around in. We need to think seriously about what kind of environment we are creating for ourselves and have a sensible debate about what's acceptable and what's not.

"Health needs to be back on the town planning agenda before it's too late."

With UK rates of obesity predicted to rise to half the population by 2050, time is running out to reverse the trend. The North East has one of the highest levels of obesity in the country, with overweight children becoming a major concern.

According to The Health Survey for England in 2005, about 18% of children aged two to 15 in the UK were obese, with the North East being above average at 19.5%.

While there are many well-documented factors that influence obesity - at its simplest level, it is caused by eating too much and not getting enough physical activity - Mr Townshend believes obesity is an extremely complex issue.

He argues our built environment and how it prevents us from taking healthy lifestyle choices is now recognised as an area we know too little about.

Many of the examples in his book Obesogenic Environments: Complexities, Perceptions and Objective Measures, which he co-edited with Dr Lake, come from the USA and Australia, where there are more low-density car-orientated suburbs, which are a focus of concern in obesity research. …

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