By Karl Leif Bates

Walking's healthier than driving, if you look both ways. (Karin Beate Nøsterud, via wikimedia commons)

Walking’s healthier than driving, if you look both ways. (Karin Beate Nøsterud, via wikimedia commons)

Walking as you go to school, shopping or work is good for your health and it saves money and carbon emissions. But the way American cities are built, some of the folks who would benefit most from a little bipedalism live in the areas that make walking the hardest.

That’s the upshot of a complete analysis of the nation’s “built environment,” by a pair of researchers from Duke and the University of Michigan.

Katherine King, a visiting assistant professor in Community and Family Medicine at Duke, worked with Philippa Clarke, an associate research professor in epidemiology at U-M, to examine more than 63,000 census tracts in 48 states and the District of Columbia from the 2000 census.

They used linear regression analysis to look for relationships between five neighborhood characteristics (income, education, race/ethnic composition, age distribution and gender) and five factors that contribute to “walkability,” such as the presence of intersections and building density.

The poorest neighborhoods, and those with the highest education levels — downtown areas of cities –were found to be the most walkable. But census tracts with a higher proportion of children and older adults, the suburbs, were apparently less walkable, with fewer intersections and lower density of street segments.

The authors suggest that urban planners — make that SUB-urban planners —  should give careful thought to the health implications of the living spaces they’re designing. King’s work was supported by the US EPA’s environmental public health division.

Citation – A Disadvantaged Advantage in Walkability: Findings From Socioeconomic and Geographical Analysis of National Built Environment Data in the United States Katherine King and Philippa Clarke. American Journal of Epidemiology, Online Nov. 19, 2014.

Read the paper –