Sunday, January 28, 2007

"Smart Growth" town-planning now justified on (spurious) health grounds

Our self-appointed "betters" tell us: We will dictate how you live "FOR YOUR OWN GOOD"! As usual, it's about depriving people of choice. The idea that if people want to live in suburbs and drive everywhere, that's their own personal prerogative is totally alien to these neo-Fascists

Lawrence Frank is no couch potato. Taking full advantage of his city's compact design, the Vancouver, British Columbia, resident often bikes to work and walks to stores, restaurants, and museums. That activity helps him stay fit and trim. But Frank hasn't always found his penchant for self-propulsion to be practical. He previously lived in Atlanta, where the city's sprawling layout thwarted his desire to be physically active as he went about his daily business. [How awful for him! But strange that he could find no other way to excercise if he really wanted to!]

"There was not much to walk to," says Frank, a professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia. For example, he recalls that there was only one decent restaurant within walking distance of his old home. Many restaurants and other businesses in Atlanta cluster in strip malls that stand apart from residential areas. In Vancouver, by contrast, Frank's neighborhood contains dozens of eateries, and he often strolls to and from dinner. "I'm more active here," he says.

The glaring difference between the two cities' landscapes figures in Frank's professional life as well as in his personal one. Frank is part of an emerging area of cross-disciplinary science that's examining the relationship between the shapes of our cities and the shapes of our bodies. He and other researchers have evidence that associates health problems with urban sprawl, a loose term for humanmade landscapes characterized by a low density of buildings, dependence on automobiles, and a separation of residential and commercial areas.

Frank proposes that sprawl discourages physical activity, but some researchers suggest that people who don't care to exercise choose suburban life. Besides working to settle that disagreement, researchers are looking at facets of urban design that may shortchange health. As scientists investigate the relationship between sprawl and obesity, a compact style of city development sometimes called smart growth might become a tool in the fight for the nation's health. However, University of Toronto economist Matthew Turner charges that "a lot of people out there don't like urban sprawl, and those people are trying to hijack the obesity epidemic to further the smart-growth agenda [and] change how cities look."

In September 2003, two major studies linked sprawl and obesity. Since those reports, researchers in fields as disparate as epidemiology and economics have generated a spate of similarly themed studies [They would]. In the first of the 2003 reports, researchers analyzed data from a nationwide survey in which each of some 200,000 people reported his or her residential address, physical activity, body mass, height, and other health variables. Residents of sprawling cities and counties tended to weigh more, walk less, and have higher blood pressure than did people living in compact communities, concluded urban planner Reid Ewing and his colleagues at the University of Maryland at College Park's National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education.

In the second study, health psychologist James Sallis of San Diego State University and his colleagues reported that residents of "high-walkability" neighborhoods, which have closely packed residences and a mix of housing and businesses, tended to walk more and were less likely to be obese than residents of low-walkability neighborhoods. In 2004, Frank and his colleagues produced additional connections among urban form, activity, and obesity. The data on more than 10,500 people in the Atlanta area indicated that the more time a person spends in a car, the more obese he or she tends to be. But the more time people spend walking, the less obese they are.

Frank's team, like the other groups, found that areas with interspersed homes, shops, and offices had fewer obese residents than did homogeneous residential areas whose residents were of a similar age, income, and education. Furthermore, neighborhoods with greater residential density and street plans that facilitate walking from place to place showed below-average rates of obesity. The magnitude of the effect wasn't trivial: A typical white male living in a compact, mixed-use community weighs about 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) less than a similar man in a diffuse subdivision containing nothing but homes, Frank and his colleagues reported. [That people of middling weight live longer is a bit pesky so we won't mention that!]

Such studies can't prove that living amid sprawl leads to inactivity; it may also be that inactive people choose to inhabit areas where driving is the easiest way to get around. In other words, people with different health habits and different propensities to gain weight may sort themselves into different kinds of neighborhoods. That's what Turner suggests is going on. Turner conducted a study that tracked people over time, as some of them moved from one neighborhood to another. He and his collaborators found no change in weight associated with moving from a sprawling locale to a dense one, or vice versa. "We're the only ones that have tried to distinguish between causation and sorting... and we find that it's sorting," he says. "The available facts do not support the conclusion that sprawling neighborhoods cause weight gain."

Turner's team analyzed data collected over 6 years on more than 5,000 young adults living across the United States. Most of the volunteers moved at least once during the study. The researchers compared individuals' weights before and after they moved between communities with different degrees of sprawl. To measure sprawl, they used satellite images to calculate the average distance between residential buildings. They also determined the average density of nonresidential establishments such as churches and shops in each volunteer's zip code. "We're estimating the effect [of sprawl on weight] to be zero or very close to zero," Turner says. Any weight gain attributable to sprawl, he says, is at most "a couple of ounces."

More here

British Conservatives go nuts too

They have become the "me too" party

Food and drink manufacturers could be given strict quotas for producing fatty and sugary foods and alcohol under plans to tackle obesity and excessive drinking being considered by the Conservative Party. Under the plan drawn up by the Working Group on Responsible Business, set up by David Cameron last July, producers would be allocated production limits allowing them to produce a certain quantity of fatty food or alcoholic drink. Manufacturers wanting to produce more would have to buy credits from companies prepared to produce less. The regime would give a financial incentive for producers to make products containing less fat, sugar, salt and alcohol.

The consultative paper, aimed at making business more responsible, described obesity and excessive drinking as "social pollutants" that might be tackled in the same way that carbon emissions trading schemes reduced environmental damage. The proposal surprised food and drink makers, who said that the idea was not wanted and would not work.

In the foreword to the paper, Mr Cameron said that he wanted the Conservatives to reclaim responsible business from the Left. While paying tribute to the benefits of capitalism, he said: "I've never believed that we can leave everything to market forces. I'm not prepared to turn a blind eye if the system sometimes leaves casualties in its wake."

Emissions trading had been an invaluable tool in addressing environmental pollution, the paper said. "If . . . social and environmental pollution may be seen as in some ways analagous, might not a process of social emissions trading be a way of addressing some aspects of social pollution?" The amount of fat, sugar and salt in processed foods was easily quantifiable, which would make setting quotas straightforward, the report said. Similarly alcoholic consumption across the country was easily quantified, which would simplify setting quotas for companies. "In this case, companies who lowered the alcohol content of their products would have a significant incentive, as well as selling off alcohol quotas they did not need."

Manufacturers questioned whether the system could work in practice. It would have to be applied to imports to work, and could have the opposite of the desired effect by pushing up the prices of targeted products and so widening profit margins.

Graeme Leach, the policy director of the Institute of Directors said: "This sounds pretty radical. For this to get off the ground a lot of detailed work would have to be done and a very large number of problems would have to be overcome. I don't think it's going to happen."

The Food and Drink Federation was surprised, saying that it was already making progress in reducing fat, salt and sugar levels in processed foods. Spokeswoman Christine Welberry said: "No form of quota system would be wanted by the industry." She said that the FDF had asked to see Mr Cameron but had been rebuffed. "So far he's refused to meet us." The group has also proposed that responsible corporate behaviour be rewarded by lighter regulation. Companies could be awarded bronze, silver and gold standards, according to their behaviour.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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