Another Way To Measure the Sprawl/Obesity Relationship

MLewyn's picture

One dispute in the literature about sprawl and obesity is whether the impact of sprawl is significant compared to the impact of social class.  It could be argued that obesity is primarily a function of poverty and lack of education, rather than of automobile dependency.

It occurred to me that one way to measure this is to somehow control for poverty levels.  For example, if urban counties had lower obesity levels than poverty levels, while the reverse was true in affluent suburbs, it would then appear that urbanites were less likely to be obese controllling for poverty.  On the other hand, if the obesity/poverty ratio was the same everywhere, it would appear that suburbanization had little impact.

I began by looking at data from my native Atlanta (from the Community Commons site).  In the most urban counties, DeKalb and Fulton, the poverty rate was about 8 to 10 pts lower than the obesity rate.  (Fulton has 15.9% poverty and 23.8% obesity, DeKalb 17.1% poverty and 26.3% obesity).  If we measure the gap by ratio, these counties' poverty rate is about 2/3 of their obesity rates.

In two reasonably well-off inner suburban counties, Cobb and Gwinnett, the poverty/obesity gap was somewhat greater, about a 12-13-point gap (Gwinnett 12.5% poverty 25.5% obesity; Cobb 11.2% poverty 23.6% obesity).   If we measure the gap by ratio, these counties' poverty rate is about half their obesity rates.   In Clayton County, a less affluent outer county that extends far into the suburbs, the 18.3% poverty rate is nearly doubled by the 35.1% obesity rate, a 17 point gap.

In well-off exurbs (Henry, Fayette, and Forsyth Counties) far from the city, the gap is far greater: typically 17-19 points.  In these counties, the poverty rate was about 6-10% (ranging from 5.9 in Fayette to 6.5 in Forsyth to 9.5 in Henry) and the obesity rate was 23-28% (23.3 in Forsyth, 24 in Fayette, 28.2 in Henry).  In these counties, the obesity rate was three or four times the poverty rate.

So the evidence from Atlanta supports the view that suburbanization is related to obesity, as the more exurban areas have a greater poverty/obesity gap.

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