Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Memo to Salem's Downtown Redevelopment folks

You're doing it wrong. The only groceries available near all Salem's new condos and apartments are beer and cigarettes. As a public health matter, Salem needs to focus on bringing a greengrocer downtown. We subsidize parking for cars like crazy, building them entire multi-story buildings. Why shouldn't we take some of that money and spend it on improving public health instead?

VICTORIA — Want to lose weight? Move closer to a grocery store.

A new study from the University of British Columbia shows people who live within a kilometre of a grocery store are half as likely to be overweight, compared to those living in neighbourhoods without grocery stores.

The study shows that old-style urban planning that mixes retail with residential zones gets people out of their cars, onto the sidewalks, and helps them keep their weight down.

And if one grocery store is good, two or more is even better, the report released Monday showed.

Researchers found that every additional store within a kilometre translated into an 11 per cent reduction in the likelihood of being overweight.

"People have to access food," said study author Lawrence Frank. "It's a marker for other commercial uses, as well, so it's not just grocery stores that matter."

About 620 people over the age of 15 participated in the study: 576 from the Lower Mainland and 131 from Vancouver Island.

The study measured physical activity and body mass, along with proximity to retail and commercial buildings.

The research found that people walked more often when they lived in neighbourhoods with good street lighting, continuous sidewalks, and a variety of shops, services, schools, parks and workplaces within walking distance.

The study also linked body mass to urban design, showing that people who live in suburb-style neighbourhoods that force them to drive to the store makes them more likely to be overweight.

"None of this is new," Frank said. "What is new is we have a better understanding of how much (urban-development patterns) are affecting us, and the results support more of the traditional approach to building communities."

The study found that people whose neighbourhoods includes stores that front directly onto a sidewalk — rather than those where a parking lot separates the store from the sidewalk — were half as likely to be overweight as those living in neighbourhoods without sidewalk-front stores.

"People don't like walking through a sea of cars," Frank said. "It's not a friendly space."

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