Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Lack of walkable cities expands China’s obese

A sprawling road network in Hangzhou, China A sprawling road network in Hangzhou, China Shutterstock
18 Nov
2014
Rapidly climbing levels of obesity across China are being blamed on bad urban design that encourages car usage over walking

Startlingly, one-fifth of all overweight or obese people in the world are now living in China, with most of the increase occuring among the growing middle class. A report published in the journal Preventive Medicine studied six Chinese urban neighbourhoods – including three in Shanghai and one in the nearby city of Hangzhou, measuring the level of ‘walkability’ of each urban centre – taking into account cars parked on pavements, curb cuts and other crowded pavement features – and comparing the incomes and Body Mass Indices (BMIs) of local residents.

The results showed significantly higher BMIs for people with middle-range incomes, who tended to live in less walkable neighbourhoods. Conversely, both poorer and richer communities, living in more walkable districts, were not experiencing the same growth in obesity levels.

The report therefore suggests that with the automobile-centric nature of new Chinese cities, the new middle classes have taken advantage of being able to afford to travel by car, but that this has had an adverse impact on their health.

GEOFACT: A separate study conducted across ten Chinese provinces revealed that 34 per cent of people in China between the ages of 20 and 69 are overweight.

‘This runs counter to the finding that higher-income people are the ones that are more likely to be obese,’ says Mariela Alfonzo, an assistant research professor at the NYU School of Engineering, and lead author on the report. ‘We think it’s actually the middle class, as they are the ones more likely to live in less walkable places and are the ones that are adopting fast food or Western diets. The higher-income people can afford to live in walkable places and they are more aware of what actually constitutes healthy eating. The lower-income people are also often still living in the more walkable center of town, just in smaller or run-down units and don’t have access to Western food.’

Alfonzo hopes this report will help to convince government regulators and city planners in China to build more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly neighbourhoods, something which is currently prohibited due to the existing strict urban design regulations. Her fear is that China’s rapidly growing cities, such as Hangzhou, will otherwise be allowed to continue sprawling outwards away from the city centre, further motivating people to invest in private cars.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...

Forests

The world’s second largest tropical forest receives significantly less funding…

Cities

The world’s first water-borne dairy farm has been erected on…

Cities

Continental Europe’s most extensive underground rail transport network, the Madrid…

Cities

A central highway in Brazil’s largest city is about to…

Cities

Urban photography marries themes and passages from TS Eliot in…

Mapping

From Leonardo da Vinci’s genius and the history of Starbucks,…

Mapping

How do you usually travel to work? Question 41 in…

Water

The Nile is home to mysteries both ancient and modern…

Places

While researching his main article on the world’s smallest countries,…

Places

Vitali Vitaliev briefly meets the down-to-earth ruler of Liectenstein

Places

In the third of his series on geopolitical oddities, Vitali…

Water

Increased rainfall intensity, predicted to occur as the climate changes,…

Deserts

Now in its fourth year, this annual lecture series highlights…

Cities

With Jakarta suffering from severe subsidence, pollution and congestion, Indonesia…

Mapping

A revolution in digital mapmaking is underway and the implications…

Cities

India has pledged $120billion to make its cities ‘smart’. But…

Cities

Buildings made from wood are becoming increasingly common in cities…

Forests

The lead author of a scientific study, which claimed that…

Cities

A team of researchers in Australia are urging urban planners…