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Chiropractic Research Review

Unpleasant Surroundings Linked to Increased Obesity Risk

The principal cause of obesity is an imbalance between a person's daily caloric intake and that person's expenditure of energy; increased caloric intake combined with reduced energy output will lead to direct and significant effects on a person's weight.

It has been speculated that environment also may be a factor in the incidence of obesity, as areas that are perceived to be clean, safe and visually pleasing are thought to encourage people to exercise more frequently, thus helping to reduce obesity levels. However, few studies have measured the direct effect a pleasing environment may have on physical activity.

In this cross-sectional survey, researchers analyzed housing and health status data collected on 6,919 adults living in eight European cities. In addition to self-reported data on height, weight, and physical activity levels, trained surveyors assessed the residents' environment, documenting amounts of graffiti and litter, and levels of greenery and vegetation in the immediate area.

Analysis showed that among respondents whose residential environment contained the highest levels of greenery, the likelihood of being overweight or obese was 37 percent less than respondents with the lowest levels of greenery; residents in areas of high greenery also were 3.32 times more likely to be physically active than residents in low-greenery areas. In environments with the highest levels of litter and graffiti, the likelihood of being overweight of obese was 42 percent higher, and residents were 47 percent less likely to be physically active, compared with people who lived in areas with the lowest graffiti and litter levels.

Conclusion: "In this study of a range of European cities, we find that objectively assessed features of the residential environment are associated with the likelihood of being physically active and not being overweight or obese. Our analysis is limited because it is cross-sectional and may be subject to differences in interpretation and reporting between countries ... In efforts to promote physical activity and reduce weight, however, attention should be paid to environmental facilitators and barriers as well as individual factors."

Ellaway A, Macintyre S, Bonnefoy X. Graffiti, greenery, and obesity in adults: secondary analysis of European cross-sectional survey. British Medical Journal Sept. 17, 2005;331:611-612.

Chiropractic Research Review

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