September 27, 2004
Forget speed. Sprawl may kill you, according to a study by Rand Corp., which found that the rates of arthritis, asthma, headaches and other health problems are higher among residents of sprawling communities.

Those living in denser areas, like New York's Manhattan, had fewer problems. In fact, living in a dense urban environment was equivalent to adding four years to one's life, the study concluded.

The researchers studied data on 8,600 Americans in 38 metropolitan areas and while the study did not pinpoint the reason for the supposed health differences, health researchers have long been concerned that because they presumably drive everywhere, suburbanites don't get enough exercise and are more prone to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, among others.

Air pollution may also be a factor, said Roland Sturm, senior economist at Rand and the study's principal author. Sprawling communities tend to have more air pollution, he said.

Very spread-out cities like Atlanta and the Riverside-San Bernardino area had the most health problems. Particularly hard hit by sprawl were the poor and the elderly, Sturm said.

However, there was no corresponding increase in mental health problems in sprawling areas, despite previous speculation that the suburban lifestyle increases isolation and possibly contributes to depression.

The study is being published today in the journal Public Health.