Myths of Obesity and Millennials

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.

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12 thoughts on “Myths of Obesity and Millennials

  1. Frank

    What are your thoughts on the higher obesity rates in rural areas? A 2012 Live Science article asserted a causal relationship between country cooking, isolation, and obesity.

  2. OFP2003

    As with so much else, what the “news” thinks is “news” is too often mistaken for “facts” or “science”.

    The cool kids living/working downtown for the news media search out what is cool based on what they are doing. Then they feed that to the rest of us as if that is the “cool” thing today. Those of us unaware that most “reporting” is actually a form of “entertainment” have little defense for their propaganda. “Science” is boring, it us up to us (the advocates/policy activists/etc) to learn how to make our “science” fit the expectations of the general public consumer. That is ….. make it interesting or entertaining.

  3. msetty

    The Antiplanner pontificating about biases in studies of urbanism! That’s a good one!

    There are a lot of problems with the so-called “self selection” canard in transportation and urban-related health studies, but spending any time outlining them here is wasted on a self-selected band of too many idiots.

  4. Frank

    Urging a specific person to commit suicide is not only morally repugnant, it’s illegal. You are a disgusting troll who, in every single comment, resorts to name calling and character smears, just like Donald Trump does. Do the readers of this blog and its comments a favor and stop posting your hate here.

  5. metrosucks

    “Msetty has self-selected to live in a rural area and is fat”

    Msetty wishes death on those who point out a few salient facts? Mikey, did you ask your kindergarten teacher to jump off a cliff when she finally admitted you’re not all that special? Do you like to play a game where you pretend to live near the golden gate bridge in a high density complex instead of the rural ranch you actually live on?

    I think you don’t do that, and trying to explain away your behavior by invoking mental illness lets you off the hook. You’re just an asshole.

  6. LazyReader

    The assumption that urban residents aren’t as fat as suburanites is based solely on the underpinning that suburbanites drive for everything and urbanites walk for everything (uhh, mass transit)

    What they also didn’t take into consideration is the suburbs; contain the bulk of the people probably better concerned with their appearance/health, which explains the ABUNDANCE of places that cater to those demographics (Gyms/ Spas/ health centers) which are found all over the suburbs. The Obesity problem is and always has been personal decisions with some attributed to socio-economic matters such as diet, access to healthier options, the proliferation and distance from fast food joints.

  7. transitboy

    I’d like to see something focused only on children ages 5 – 18. Rather than talk about suburbs and big cities, the question would be: “Are children who walk to school less likely to be obese than children who are driven to school?” Otherwise the city/suburb distinction is likely less important than the region of the country. Likely both the inner city and the suburbs of Denver (Colorado is the leanest state) are probably less likely to be obese than the inner city and the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi (the fattest state). https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://calorielab.com/news/wp-images/post-images/fattest-states-2015-big.jpg&imgrefurl=http://calorielab.com/news/2015/10/31/fattest-states-2015/&h=554&w=699&tbnid=0Au46-0orCUo7M:&tbnh=146&tbnw=183&docid=3wjnPPi2XaCcIM&usg=__2TEVaRMJXunW1aij4mF5vkpy1z0=&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwjvw9ij-IHLAhVP9WMKHY2BBdkQ9QEIIDAA

  8. prk166


    There are a lot of problems with the so-called “self selection” canard in transportation and urban-related health studies, but spending any time outlining them here is wasted on a self-selected band of too many idiots.
    ” ~msetty

    Who pissed in your cheerios?

  9. Frank

    “Otherwise the city/suburb distinction is likely less important than the region of the country. Likely both the inner city and the suburbs of Denver (Colorado is the leanest state) are probably less likely to be obese than the inner city and the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi”

    Indeed.

    The diets of Coloradans and Mississippians are vastly different due to culture. There is also a much higher percentage of African-Americans in MS, and this “group” is more likely to be obese, possibly of the differences in diet due to culture. Colorado also has the highest average elevation of any state, and it has been proven that hypoxia causes weight loss.

    So comparing Colorado to Mississippi is an apples/oranges comparison.

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