Nine years ago, the Antiplanner called claims that suburbs caused obesity “junk science.” Research since then has validated that view.
For example, Health and Place journal is focused on “all aspects of health and health care in which place or location matters,” so might be presumed to have a slight bias for an assumption that place influences obesity. Yet it published a 2012 literature review of dozens of papers on the subject that concluded that most failed to account for self-selection bias, that is, that people who might be overweight prefer to live in the suburbs. Thus, any relationship they may have found between weight and suburbia “cannot provide strong support for causality.”
A paper published by MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism reviewed several other metastudies that reported “the inconclusive nature of the relation between urban form and public health.” The MIT paper was written specifically in rebuttal to a paper by people associated with the Congress for the New Urbanism, and chided the authors of that paper for failing to disclose their association with that group, “an organization known for certain urban biases linked to their design agendas.”
There was also an article in the New England Journal of Medicine reviewing “Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity.” Presumption 6 was that “the built environment influences obesity.” After a review of the literature, the article concluded that “no conclusions can be drawn.”
I was alerted to these reports by a recent article in Next City. Unfortunately, the links in that article were either broken or non-existent, so I’m including them here. The Next City article goes on to report on a Swiss study that found some relationship between high-rise housing and obesity, but the relationship wasn’t clear and the article was inconclusive–just like all the others.
Speaking of myths, there is also the myths that Millennials prefer living in the cities. This isn’t really news, but census data are proving it is untrue. Suburbs continue to grow faster than the cities, and even the exurbs, whose growth slowed after the 2008 financial crash, have recovered. Moreover, a careful review of the data showed that the number of Millennials moving from cities to suburbs outnumbered those moving from suburbs to the cities.
Despite this research, the myths about obesity and Millennials are repeated over and over again. This just shows that urban planners are better at public relations than they are at analyzing data.