LOS ANGELES – Warning: Suburban sprawl (search) may be hazardous to your health. A report released Monday found that people who live in sprawling metropolitan areas are more likely to report chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches and breathing difficulties than residents of more compact cities.
The difference — which remained even when researchers accounted for factors such as age, economic status and race — may have something to do with the way people get around in more spread-out cities.
"People drive more in these areas; they walk less," said Roland Sturm, co-author of the report by Rand Corp. (search), a nonprofit research group.
The report suggests that an adult who lives in a sprawling city such as Atlanta will have health characteristics similar to someone four years older, but otherwise similar, who lives in a more compact city like Seattle.
The report is not the first to suggest that sprawl cramps a healthy lifestyle. Last year, major studies found that residents of such areas weighed more than their counterparts in walkable cities like New York.
The study was based on information from a telephone survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (search), that questioned adults about their physical and mental health in 1998 and 2001. The study analyzed information from more than 8,600 people in 38 metropolitan areas.
The study found no link between suburban sprawl and a greater incidence of mental health problems.
Regions considered to have the worst suburban sprawl included Atlanta; Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Bridgeport-Danbury-Stamford, Conn., the report said. Regions with the least amount of sprawl included New York City, San Francisco, Boston and Portland, Ore.
The findings appear in the October edition of the journal Public Health.