Sunday, April 01, 2001

Fat city? Nope, it's the 'burbs

        The waistband of my skirt fits like a tourniquet. I can't button my jacket. These things, of course, are not my fault. Urban sprawl is making me fat. It is a scientific fact. Or soon will be.

        I was so excited by this news, which I heard over breakfast, that I nearly dropped my muffin. My breakfast muffins, by the way, are completely wonderful. Roughly the size of Arizona, they are extremely low in fat and loaded with something or other that is very good for my colon.

        Anyway, I sipped my mocha latte and pondered the significance of a study planned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The sidewalk factor

        “America is experiencing substantial growth in its metro areas and we're also experiencing substantial growth around our waistlines,” a researcher with the centers told reporters.

        This $4 million study will examine the habits of 8,000 households in Atlanta to establish a link between neighborhood design and obesity. Dr. Lawrence Frank, a transportation professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, first studied this in Seattle, where he says there is a link between obesity and suburban neighborhoods without sidewalks.

        “What we observe so far,” Dr. Frank told NPR's Scott Simon, “is there's definitely less walking in places that there's less things to walk to.”

        You can't be too careful, you know, jumping to conclusions, so for $4 million I guess we'll find out for scientific certainty. I myself have observed that city people don't appear to be any more svelte than suburban people. But, of course, I am no scientist.

        My friend Jan and I discussed this over lunch. She eats like a bird, so she did not take advantage of the opportunity to accessorize her half-pounder with cheese and bacon. I, myself, was drinking a diet cola with my Nuggets of something fried but unrecognizable and Biggie Sized with a bale of fries for only an additional 39 cents.

        We agreed that our neighborhood could use more sidewalks. Sometimes we almost have to stand in the street when we're waiting in line at Graeter's during the summertime.

        There has to be a link.

Porky America

        From 1975 to 1995, when cities were seriously sprawling, there was a 42 percent decline in walking, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. (So far the links between urban sprawl and the divorce rate, babies born out of wedlock and violence on television have not been explored, although these things too escalated during that same couple of decades.)

        The point is America has porked up like crazy. Nearly one in five Americans is officially overweight, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity or economic status.

        Everybody is getting fat.

        Except for those who are getting skinny.

        Recent studies have shown that one of every 100 women between 10 and 20 years old is starving herself — sometimes to death. Jane Fonda says she has been anorexic and bulimic for 25 years. Even though we know for a certainty that she has been getting plenty of exercise, at least on video.

        We are, in fact, a country divided. We are Jack Sprat and his wife. The petite shop proudly proclaims “zero sizes now available” and around the corner is a place that serves “plus-size women.” We are either Ally McBeal or Oprah. But there is one thing about which we can all agree.

        It is not our fault.

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