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Report links urban sprawl to health problems


(AP) -- Warning: suburban sprawl may be hazardous to your health.

A report to be released Monday found that people who live in areas with a high degree of sprawl are more likely to report chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches and breathing difficulties compared to residents in less sprawled-out areas.

The differences remained even when researchers accounted for factors such as age, economic status and race.

"People who live in more sprawling areas are more likely to have chronic health problems over time," said Roland Sturm, co-author of the report by Rand Corp., a nonprofit research group. "People drive more in these areas, they walk less."

Researchers said the findings suggest that an adult who lives in a sprawling city such as Atlanta, Georgia, will have health characteristics similar to someone four years older, but otherwise similar, who lives in a more compact city like Seattle, Washington.

A sprawling area is defined in the study as a place that has streets not well connected, lower population density and areas that are far from each other, such as schools and shopping malls.

The report is not the first to suggest that sprawl cramps a healthy lifestyle.

Last year, major studies found that residents of such areas -- where driving to work or school is routine and walking and bike riding difficult or dangerous -- weighed more than their counterparts in walkable cities like New York.

The study was based on information from a telephone survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, that questioned adults about their physical and mental health in 1998 and 2001. The study analyzed information from more than 8,600 people in 38 metropolitan areas.

The study found no link between suburban sprawl and a greater incidence of mental health problems.

The report said regions that had the worst suburban sprawl included: Riverside-San Bernardino, California; Atlanta; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Bridgeport-Danbury-Stamford, Connecticut.

Regions with the least amount of sprawl included: New York City; San Francisco, California; Boston, Massachusetts; and Portland, Oregon.

The findings appear in the October edition of the journal, Public Health.