Atlanta Study - Carburbs Make You Fat
Weight: Long commutes add pounds, subtract exercise time
By JANET FRANKSTON
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/30/04
You already know that what you eat can make you fat.
But findings from a study that tracked Atlantans' travel patterns and body
mass index shows where you live and how much you drive could have an effect
on your weight, too.
The study of more than 10,500 Atlanta-area residents shows a strong link
between time spent driving and obesity, said Lawrence Frank, the lead author
and a professor at the University of British Columbia. People who can walk
to stores and restaurants are less likely to be obese than their
counterparts living in more sprawling areas.
"I don't think people are equating their home-buying choices with their
waistline," said Frank, a former professor at Georgia Tech. "The study shows
they may want to give that a second thought."
"Obesity Relationships with Community Design, Physical Activity and Time
Spent in Cars," is scheduled to be published in the American Journal of
Preventive Medicine and released Thursday at the Time-ABC News Obesity
Summit in Williamsburg, Va.
Findings show that every half hour spent in a car translates into a 3
percent greater chance of being obese. An average white man living in a
compact community with nearby shops and services is expected to weigh 10
pounds less than a similar white man living in a low-density,
residential-only cul-de-sac subdivision.
Kimberly Smith knows what can happen when exercise time is sucked up by a
She drives 53 miles one way to work, from Stone Mountain to her job as Henry
County's director of planning in McDonough. She spends about two hours in
her car every day.
"I don't have time set aside for physical activity because I'm so tired from
working and driving," said Smith, 32.
When she worked at home, she went to the gym three times a week and weighed
about 25 pounds less.
And she doesn't get the benefit of casual exercise in her DeKalb County
neighborhood because her subdivision doesn't have sidewalks or shopping
"I have to drive to everything," she said. "I used to live in Midtown, and I
walked to dinner, walked to Blockbuster, walked to the grocery store. I
would walk everywhere, actually."
The report comes from a study of land use and travel patterns in metro
Atlanta known as SMARTRAQ, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Georgia Department of
Transportation and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.
Participants in 13 counties kept diaries, and some transmitted data through
global positioning devices.
"The reason you spend so much time driving is because you live in an
auto-dependent neighborhood," Frank said. "The study shows that these travel
choices are important predictors of our weight."
SMARTRAQ data shows the average person in the Atlanta region spends more
than an hour in their car each day, he said.
Marietta resident Don Blank fits that bill.
He drives about 35 minutes one way to downtown Atlanta, where he manages
Georgia Pacific's internal television network. Blank, 60, not only commutes
but also drives to a second home in Hilton Head twice a month.
He leaves his office about 6 p.m. and works out at his company's gym until
it closes at 7. Blank, 60, said despite the hours spent in cars, people can
fit in physical activity if they make it a priority. He does it nearly every
"I think if you want to exercise and keep yourself in shape, you can, no
matter how bad the commute and how much you have to work," he said.