Maine’s updated obesity numbers are out, and everyone in Maine probably wishes they had better numbers to print. The same can be said for just about every state in the US. The Portland Press Herald reports that Maine has the highest obesity rates in New England. The State’s top health official, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, says those figures are no surprise because of Maine’s higher poverty rate. “It’s harder for people with lower income to access healthy foods and (live in) walkable communities,” said Mills according to the recent article.
Creating walkable communities often results in a higher cost of living. That’s a great selling point for places looking for an economic boost, but it doesn’t help to integrate lower-income households. It is possible to make walkable communities that are affordable to all incomes, but it is not easily done.
In my estimation, walkable communities are a relatively small factor in the higher obesity rates for low-income populations. I see several bigger factors, including marketing by fast food companies, substandard nutritional value of foods (especially lower-priced foods), new technological advances that distract us from exercising, and a nationwide lack of places to be physically active without first driving. While walkable neighborhoods cannot solve all of these problems, they do certainly encourage daily incidental exercise, which is exercise that you get accidentally just by living in places where walking, bicycling, and mass transit are the logical modes of transportation. Take a walk around a very walkable community, and you are almost guaranteed to see healthier people. Walkability is certainly a contributing factor to that.
One good thing that I can say about fast food places is that many of them are including bike racks in their developments. The McDonalds pictured above has a bike rack, and many of them I have seen recently have had racks as well (even though in many places they are not required). One McDonalds in Xenia, Ohio has a connection to a regional bike trail, including picnic benches.