Monday, May 14, 2012

Obesity in America: Geographic Outlook

Temple Terrace - -

With new studies predicting a rapid increase in obesity within the United States, the effort taken by
the government, local and federal, seems to have played little to no role in decreasing the public's Appetite.  Its not hard to see that millions of the population are overweight by at least 10 pounds and thousands are severely obese, weighing close to 300 pounds.  There are many factors and reasons that create an obese individual, however something that has not been addressed thoroughly is how the geography of a particular city plays a major role in promoting obesity.  Where are the majority obese? Or where are the majority seemingly fit and healthy?  Why?  To answer these questions, I will compare two suburbs within big cities of Florida, one of the top 3 obese states in the nation according to a recent survey.  Pinecrest, Florida in Miami versus Carrollwood, Florida in Tampa.  To give the reader the best perspective, I will describe the physical surroundings and culture residing in both areas.  The differences will be clear as will the importance geography has on obesity.

     Pinecrest Florida is a suburb in south Miami-Dade County.  It intersects with several areas including Coral Gables and South Miami, which is a high class to extremely wealthy neighborhood.  There is a fitness center located centrally on a main road with classes available and a cross training course.  There is a public gardens as well next to the fitness center.  Along main roads there are side walks and bike lanes.  There is also a market that sells fresh vegetables, protein shakes, juice bar, and small servings of food to walk or bike to.  Every morning, one can see numbers of runners, bicyclists, and pedestrians out doing physical activity.  They are all in great physical shape and many are 40+ years of age.  From living close to there for many years, I did not notice any increase in obesity at anytime.  In fact, its quite the opposite.  Fit bodies, runners legs, and pedestrians on routines that can be seen daily with the same individuals and always the once a week exercise buddies making an appearance.  Miami in general has some of the most attractive people in America, physically that is.  The focus on physical appearance is a theme that is perpetuated by the social lifestyle the city wants from residents. There many bars, restaurants, clubs, and social places to talk and dance.
Pinecrest is my example, but the healthy lifestyle or keeping aesthetics high is observable everywhere with the infrastructure to make it a People-Friendly city.  Multiple ways to move around, including a metro rail that passes along US-1, bordering Pinecrest.  When a city is designed around people to get around easier instead of cars, it becomes a routine to walk and use public transportation as well as having sidewalks and traffic lights spaced for people to use their bodies as transport.  New York City is a great example of people centered and body transport.  Pinecrest nor Miami do not have as many people as NYC and lack the more advanced public transportation efficiencies with wait times, but the Metro and Omni-Rail connects to a city that is somewhat people friendly, especially the coastal side of town.  There are only stores and strip malls on the outskirts of Pinecrest that connects to the other Miami-Dade neighborhoods.  There is a Whole Foods Grocery as well as Publix relatively close by.  Besides that, there are no specific health stores or local food selections.  99% residential.  There are many schools within walking distance of many streets in Pinecrest, which gives children a chance to walk with their parents and interact with other children neighbors.

     Carrollwood Florida is a suburb inland from Tampa Bay.  It is part of Hillsborough County which covers a gigantic section of the west, central part of Florida.  Dale Mabry Highway crosses through Carrollwood, but does not separate the suburb from other neighborhoods.  It is a car centered city along with the entire Hillsborough County.  There are some of the highest pedestrian death rates in the state and one of the most dangerous places to ride a bicycle in the State is right on West Fletcher Avenue.  So everybody drives, and that is no different than Carrollwood.  There are sidewalks but only in the nicest central part of the suburb.  It is a middle to low class area in terms of income.  Many retirees have settled there, however there are families being raised there.  I lived there for two years and explored the neighborhoods.  There were hardly 6 people outside doing physical activity at 7am on my daily walk.  At 6pm, less than 10 people I would observe daily outside being physically active compared to the over 50 people I saw counting in Pinecrest on several evenings alone on one street.  The trend also carries out all over Hillsborough county.  All cars, few people on the streets.  The lack of quality public transportation and no metro rail system is one cause for the bad traffic as well as the lack of people wanting to walk to work or be physically active outdoors.  Not to mention the overwhelming amount of strip malls and corporate stores.  Local business in the area succumbed to corporate, big business chains.  There is 1 Super Walmart and two regular Walmart stores within Carrollwood which is a little bit bigger than Pinecrest.  In Carrollwood alone, there are over 80 stores and businesses compared to the less than 60 businesses bordering Pinecrest.  When you are shopping in Carrollwood at Walmart, over 3/4 of the customers are obese which is not uncommon in any Walmart.  This is from a four hour observation period, conducted by myself and my partner.  However, this does make  for a positive factor.  The Fresh Market and Abby's Health and Nutrition are two stores that carry organic, local, humanely raised, and vegan selections for customers and are conveniently located driving distance in Carrollwood. 

    So why is this?  What makes Pinecrest a non-obese majority when Carrollwood is the opposite? We covered how transportation plays a major role  and the infrastructure of the roads and pedestrian zones being more people friendly in Pinecrest.  Another factor to suggest that those in Pinecrest can afford to be presented with knowledge of nutrition and consumption through high quality education, trainers, and knowledgeable persons in socializing.  But many residents in Carrollwood have high quality education in their past and use trainers at Bally's.  The awareness is certainly there with how the mainstream media continuously mentions diet and health trends for both Carrollwood and Pinecrest, but the action is only present in one.  How about the way residents regard appearance?  Its clear that high fashion and physical attractiveness matters more to those in Miami than Tampa.  Just look when you are walking at the way people dress and hold themselves.  In Carrollwood, I see many individuals wearing pajamas to stores.  In Pinecrest, its LaCoste and Dior.  Miami is a city for people to enjoy and be outside.  Tampa is a flat, dry, and truck centered.  The city council must want people indoors and spending on Walmart in Carrollwood because that's the main attraction for the neighborhood seemingly.  Also due to private ownership, the beautiful main park is locked for permanent residents only.  I do not see even one jogger ever while driving by everyday on my daily commute.

     My conclusion just from using two different suburbs of major cities on the way geography plays a part in obesity is that I did not include many geographical factors in detail, like wealth distribution to support my hypothesis.  However, the reader can differentiate as to the importance people-centered cities has on the suburbs of its borders.  Miami has done a good job, especially downtown, to get people outside and using public transportation.  The city has done a good job to make the streets downtown safe for public and the crime has been quarantined northwest of the beach.  The Metro-Rail gets thousands of people around everyday and the Omni-Rail gets people around the main downtown district.   
If the city is known for some fashion such as Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City;  less of the population is obese because physical appearance lacking weight is attributed to having a healthy diet and exercise.  There will however be more eating disorders but more research and focus would be needed to confirm.
Tampa is a city very spread out and full of people who are on a lower income bracket than Miami, and consequently lack funds and investors to improve infrastructure significantly to make it more friendly for people to be outside and physically active.  The downtown area has a scenic path along Bay side and Harbor island.  But besides that, it is far too dangerous to walk or ride a bicycle.  The public transportation lacks quality and even bus stops are not properly designated.  Some people just stand on the side of the road and wave down buses randomly.  By encouraging residents to be inside their cars, houses, and shopping, Hillsborough County will be one of the top 3 most obese counties in the country!!

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