Does Suburbanization Cause Obesity?
Monday, 28 April, 2014

On 22 April 2014, ISET hosted Dr. Maryam Naghsh Nejad, from the Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn, who presented her paper “Does Suburbanization cause obesity?”.

In recent years the population in metropolitan areas of the United States has increased. At the same time, the population living in the central areas of cities declined, implying that those people moving to metropolitan areas prefer to live in suburban areas. Dr. Nejad explored whether this choice to live in suburban areas has caused the recent increase in the obesity rate.

The author used Body Mass Index (BMI) as an indicator of obesity and the low density of cities as an indicator of high rates of suburbanization. The research findings show that the decrease in population density in cities led to an increase in the average BMI and thus proved the hypothesis that suburbanization increased the obesity rate. Two explanations were proposed for this result. The first is that people living in suburban areas spend more time driving their cars, which does not give them a chance to get enough physical exercise during the day. The second explanation relates to food. In suburban shops, there is always a good assortment of packaged pre-prepared food, which is cheaper than in the city centers. Lower prices induce and allow people to buy and eat more, which in turn leads to people becoming overweight or obese.

Moreover, Dr. Nejad has found that suburbanization affects females more than males. While more educated people are less affected by suburbanization, probably due to their greater awareness of healthy nutrition and the possibility of obesity. It was also found that unhealthy habits such as smoking leads to a lowered obesity rate for people living in suburban areas.

The presentation ended with a number of interesting comments and questions from the audience, which Dr. Nejad said would help her to further develop her research.