Expanding Cities And Waistlines: Australia’s Urban Sprawl Linked To Obesity

Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Health and Ageing has called for Australia to reconsider its urban growth plan, with new research linking urban sprawl to obesity.

Professor Takemi Sugiyama, an internationally recognised expert on health and the urban environment, led a study that tracked more than 2,000 adults living in urban and suburban areas of Adelaide over four years.

The study found that its participants who lived in areas 20 kilometres or further from city centre experienced an average 2.4cm increase in wait circumference over four years, compared to those living nine kilometres or less from the city who experienced an average 1.2cm increase in waist circumference.

Professor Sugiyama said the findings highlighted the need for greater collaboration between the health, planning and transport sectors to address the adverse health implications associated with urban sprawl.

“Our research is an important step in understanding the impact of urban spaces on obesity in Australia, an increasingly important consideration to address as we grapple with increasing obesity and associated burdens on the health system.

“The finding is alarming as waist circumference, a measure of abdominal fat, is a good indicator of increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, and our daily lifestyles play an important role in reducing the risk of these diseases,” he said.

Professor Sugiyama said sedentary lifestyle and a reliance on cars is expected to be one of the reasons for the greater increase in waist circumference among residents in sprawled areas.

“Expanding the urban growth boundary without providing infrastructure supporting active lifestyles such as public transport, local shops, and open spaces can pose a serious threat to public health over the medium-to-long term.

“The findings highlight the need for greater collaboration between the health, planning and transport sectors to tackle issues of obesogenic environments, with further evidence supporting environmental initiatives that can promote active lifestyles and improve the overall health of Australians,” he said.

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