Study: City Living May Make You Healthier

October 12, 2017

Move downtown if you want to be happier and healthier, according to a new study that appears in the medical journal Lancet. Researchers found that density and walkability played a major role in health outcomes of participants they studied.

Researchers from Oxford University and the University of Hong Kong evaluated living conditions and health outcomes of 400,000 residents living in London; Glasgow, Scotland; and Cardiff, Wales, and then compared them to health outcomes of residents who live in less dense suburban areas. Residents in denser areas tended to have lower levels of obesity and exercised more than residents living in suburban homes, the researchers found.

“In denser residential areas, they are better designed and more attractive destinations,” co-author Chinmoy Sarkar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We are less dependent on our cars and use public transport more.”

Researchers found that areas with suburban sprawl, on the other hand, had the greatest rates of obesity and lowest rates of exercise when compared to more densely populated downtown areas.   

“If we can convince policy makers that this is a public health opportunity, we can build well-designed communities, and in the long term you have made a big difference in health outcomes,” Sarkar says. “With evidence, we can plan multifunctional, attractive neighborhoods that promote physical activity, promote social interaction, and shield from negatives such as pollution and feeling unsafe.”

Meanwhile, a recent report released by the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance has given the U.S. an “F” in efforts to make communities more walkable. The report cited one of the biggest issues was the need to improve walkability for children, especially with their proximity to school. Nearly 48 percent of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school in 1969. Today, 45 percent ride to school in a car, according to the report.

Source: “Inner-City Living Makes for Healthier, Happier People, Study Finds,” The Guardian (Oct. 5, 2017) and “City Living Better for Health and Happiness, Says Study,” (Oct. 10, 2017)