Overweight women most likely to choose less healthy suburbs: study

Pedestrian precincts, such as North Wharf at Wynyard Quarter in Auckland, are a priority for city planners.

Pedestrian precincts, such as North Wharf at Wynyard Quarter in Auckland, are a priority for city planners.

If you are obese, you are more likely to choose a suburb that is less "walkable".

That's the finding of a controversial new study published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Domain reports that US researchers in Utah found that food and exercise preferences were a key driver in choosing a suburb. Less pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods with fewer close amenities and reliance on cars, attracted less healthy residents. 

Auckland's pink Lightpath is used by around 900 cyclists a day.

Auckland's pink Lightpath is used by around 900 cyclists a day.

While many studies have been done to show how living in certain postcodes impacts on health and wellbeing, including weight, the researchers wanted to find out if the reverse applied – do people choose neighbourhoods that reinforce their body type?

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The team at the University of Utah collated the housing movements of 34,000 women of three physical types – obese, overweight and of a healthy weight range. All the women lived in Salt Lake City and were between having their first and second child. Their height, weight and body mass were recorded.

The suburbs included high-density, "walkable" areas with a diversity of nearby shops and services, and low-density suburbs with fewer amenities and a high reliance on cars.

The study found that overweight and obese women were three times more likely than women of a healthy weight to shift from "lean" suburbs to "heavier" neighbourhoods with a higher average body mass index.

These women were also less likely to shift from heavier neighbourhoods to lean suburbs with a low average body mass index.

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In New Zealand, studies to date have focused on gathering data from people who are already living in a particular suburb. The most recent annual update of the New Zealand Health Survey by the Ministry of Health shows adults living in the most deprived areas have higher rates of most health risks including smoking, hazardous drinking, not eating at least the recommended servings of vegetables and fruit daily, physical inactivity and obesity.

There is an increasing awareness by town planners of the importance of providing opportunities for residents to walk, cycle and exercise. New developments, such as Hobsonville Point and Long Bay in Auckland, incorporate walking and cycling tracks, and Auckland Transport is continuing to develop extensive cycleways and pedestrian-friendly precincts.


One real estate agency has also started to rate the "walkability" of its house listings. Unlimited Potential in Auckland gives each house a Walk Score, which is a rating out of 100. 

Unlimited Potential director Barry Thom says the company introduced the software a couple of years ago to provide potential purchasers with more information.

"The Walk Score gives you the distance to certain things so you can understand what the location offers," he says. "People want to know where the local school is, where there's a cafe, for example."

The Walk Score software has been developed by US company Redfin.

 - Stuff


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