Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 4:13 am | Fair 66º


Peter Funt: Measuring a City’s Activity Inequality Can Be the Walk of the Town

When I’m in, say, Phoenix — with its gorgeous weather, scenery and acre upon acre of beautiful parks and gardens — I generally hop in the car to get from the coffee counter, to the barber shop, to the movie theater, because things are spread out and it’s easier to drive.

When in Manhattan — which I find to be crowded, noisy and, compared to the paradises in Arizona, quite dirty — I invariably walk, sometimes 20 or 30 blocks at a time.

Researchers at Stanford University, never at a loss to coin a term, have labeled this difference among cities “activity inequality.”

In sum, they found that inequality among locales in terms of how likely it is for people to walk, correlates directly to obesity levels. Notably, the data don’t vary much according to income or gender (although men do tend to walk more than women). The key factor is a city’​s walkability.

Our largest and oldest cities, such as New York and Boston, are most walkable and offer the lowest activity inequality. Even hilly San Francisco, because of its layout, ranks much better than nearby San Jose.

Among the least walkable were several cities in Texas, including Fort Worth and the Dallas suburb of Arlington.

Globally, the United States ranked poorly in terms of activity inequality. Sweden, for example, had very low inequality and, correspondingly, one of the lowest rates of obesity.

Another study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified what’s called a “sprawl index,” based on population density. In general, the more densely packed a community’s population the more fit and slender its residents tend to be.

To some this seems counterintuitive, since many of us gravitate to wide open spaces in pursuit of more healthful outdoor activities. Yet, urban walking appears to do the most people the most good.

To underscore the importance of their research, the people at Stanford have estimated that 5.3 million deaths per year in the United States are “associated” with inactivity. No doubt. Obesity is a growing problem and, clearly, increased activity helps reduce obesity.

The research covered nearly three-quarters of a million people in 111 countries, using smartphones that measured activity. As a result, the study seems likely to have under-reported poorer people, although the data were consistent among income levels that were measured.

Indeed, the study shows that in more walkable cities, activity is greater throughout the day and throughout the week, across age, gender and body mass index groups.

In some ways, the study begs the obvious: walking is good. But drilling down, the researchers believe that city planning — designing urban centers in ways that facilitate walking — would be an important, yet relatively inexpensive way to combat obesity.

According to the researchers, “the findings have implications for global public health policy and urban planning, and highlight the role of activity inequality and the built environment for improving physical activity and health.”

Building more walkable cities would be a step in the right direction.

Peter Funt is a writer, speaker and author of the book, Cautiously Optimistic. He is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons and can be contacted at Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >