Revealed: Why So Many Americans Are Fat (It's Not the Food)

| February 21, 2001

Revealed: Why So Many Americans Are Fat (It's Not the Food)

Americans consume only 100 more calories a day than they did 20 years ago. And, the amount of fat in our diet has dropped from 42 percent to 34 percent--about where it should be. So why are we so fat? Or, as a British newspaper recently put it, why are we 'the fattest people on the planet'? You'll find the answer in the suburbs.

'Such delicacies as the stuffed crust pizza and triple bacon cheeseburger have played their part,' writes James Langton in the Daily Telegraph, 'but the main culprit for the ever-expanding American waistline seems to be the way modern suburbs are built.' A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report finds that years of uncontrolled suburban sprawl built around cars has left us unable to walk anywhere. In their structure, most suburbs explicitly discourage walking. They have no sidewalks. The corner store has disappeared. Even the most ordinary purchase requires at least a three-to-five mile trip in the car.

The Main Street found in streetcar suburbs has all but vanished in modern suburbs, another blow to our ever-expanding waistlines. A Georgia Institute of Technology report on walking habits found a direct correlation between physical activity and the year your house was built. 'Residents in streets built before 1947 walked or cycled at least three times every two days. Those in more modern houses used cars almost exclusively.'

You can try and take a walk on the paved roads of your suburban neighborhood, but be prepared for some strange reactions. Linda Koulakjian, who lives in a D.C. suburb complained to the Washington Post last week that when she decided to take a walk to try and lose some weight, several neighbors stopped their cars and asked if she needed help. Mrs. Koulakjian admitted: 'Frankly I was embarrassed. I didn't want to walk any more after that.'
--Anjula Razdan
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See also: 'Lawn Jockeying'