THURSDAY, Feb. 10, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Low levels of education and income, but not suburban sprawl, are associated with higher rates of obesity, researchers report.
The finding challenges the widely held view that people who live in cities tend to be thinner because they have more opportunities to walk, while people in suburban and rural areas have to drive most everywhere they go.
For this study, researchers analyzed data from about 7 million people in rural and urban counties in Illinois, including residents in the metropolitan Chicago area.
Within zip codes, increased rates of obesity were associated with being older and being male, along with the percentage of people who commute by car, are black or Hispanic, or own their homes, said the researchers at the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Rates of obesity were lower in zip codes with higher median income and more residents who had attended college.
The findings could prove helpful in urban planning, according to research assistant professor Paul Metaxatos.
"Ambitious land use policies to address obesity may have little success with the low-income ethnic minorities who are most in need of assistance," he said in a university news release. "Those in marginal, transportation-disadvantaged communities would benefit from better access to medical help, better food markets and information about lifestyle modification."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the causes and consequences of overweight and obesity.