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Are the suburbs making us fat?

By Oonagh Reidy


Residents of one Australian city’s outer suburbs are fatter than their inner-city neighbours, new research shows.

The study found adults living in Adelaide’s outer northern and western suburbs developed wider waistlines, compared to inner city dwellers, over a four-year period.

The waistlines of outer suburbia grew twice as much, by 2.4cm, compared to those living 9 km or less from Adelaide’s inner city who’s waistlines expanded just 1.2cm, the study conducted by Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Health and Ageing, found.

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ACU Professor Takemi Sugiyama, who led the research, says the findings are “alarming” but believes long commutes to work and an over reliance on cars to go the shops due to a lack of public transport is partly to blame.

“The finding is alarming as waist circumference, a measure of abdominal fat, is a good indicator of increased risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.”

“If you spend an hour, or even half an hour just to get to work, and multiple that by five times a week, its adds up,” he told Yahoo7 Finance.

The study tracked over 2,000 people from Adelaide but the findings are likely to be replicated in other cities with a lot of sprawling suburbs including Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth, but probably less so in larger cities including Melbourne and Sydney where there are multi-city centres.

Daily lifestyles play an important role in reducing the risk of obesity, he says but adds diet and nutrition – and proximity to fast food outlets – also plays a role.

“If you live in the [outer] suburbs you may have easy access to fast food outlets and shopping centres,” which may encourage unhealthy eating patterns, noted Professor Sugiyama.

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‘Challenging’

Being aware of the health effects of urban planning is hugely important.

“Expanding the urban growth boundary without providing infrastructure supporting active lifestyles such as public transport, local shops, and open spaces can pose a serious threat to public health over the medium-to-long term,” he warned.

Having walking paths, open spaces and nice parks are all important to help increase physical activity among local residents.

It’s a “challenging” issue, he admits, as public transport in the outer suburbs requires a certain level of population density for it to be feasible.