NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 12, 2004

A recent study by the Rand Institute associates a shorter life expectancy with living in the suburbs, but Samuel Staley of the Reason Foundation says the dubious link has more to do with individual health habits.

The Rand study indicates that living in auto-dependent suburbs can take four years off of an individual's life and increase the chances of developing arthritis, chronic lung disease, headaches, and digestive and urinary tract problems. The researchers blame lack of exercise and driving everywhere instead of living in high-density, walkable areas.

Staley, however, has doubts about the Rand study because:

  • Researchers found no link between sprawl and other major killers such as heart disease, cancer, hypertension and diabetes.
  • The authors don't quite understand why some of these illnesses (e.g., bladder problems) are related to sprawl, though a statistical relationship exists.
  • The study indicated that moving from sprawling Rochester, New York to densely-packed Chicago would improve health outcomes by 10 percent, but failed to mention that the benefit of extending one's life expectancy by a small percentage may not be worth the move.

Futhermore, the study seemed to ignore the role individual choice makes in preventing health problems. While some suburbanites may drive home from their jobs and eat junk food in front of the TV, others may exercise regularly and eat right.

In other words, sprawl doesn't kill, but the lifestyle choice of the individual does, says Staley.

Source: Samuel Staley (Reason Foundation_, "Sprawl Kills? Urban-Suburban Study Falls Short of Hype," Dallas Morning News, October 4, 2004; and R. Sturm and D.A. Cohen, "Suburban Sprawl and Physical and Mental Health," Public Health 118, issue 7.

For study abstract:!&_cdi=11546&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=90e5855be4856dcc4f1bc004274e28e2


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