Zoning for Obesity: Incorporating context-based strategies for improved health in municipal zoning codes
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The practice of land regulation in the United States began as a measure of preventing the spread of infectious disease in urban settlements, increasing safety, and preventing fraudulent real estate transactions. However, the regulations that have been developed since have not favored health as they once did. The post-World War II era not only brought forth an era of economic boom, but it was around this time that increased levels of car ownership occurred, the new interstate system was created, and suburban living became the new ideals. Land regulations in the form of zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations have favored those ideals, which has directly led to urban sprawl and poor urban form in select metropolitan areas. It is also no surprise that from the 1950s and onward, physical health in the United States has been on a decline. Now that the number of people who die from infectious diseases has been significantly reduced, the focus of public health officials has now shifted to decreasing the prevalence of chronic diseases. These chronic diseases include, but are not limited to, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. All of these diseases are on the upswing, especially obesity. Obesity is linked to the aforementioned chronic diseases and other negative health outcomes. The most basic causes of obesity are well known: poor diet, lack of physical activity, et cetera, yet we have not been able to slow its progression. There is an invisible force at play that has contributed to this phenomenon: poor urban planning. Part I of this report will focus on how present literature and research shows the link between the design of the built environment and the physical health of the people who inhabit them, and will review those findings in how they address the relationships between obesity, urban sprawl, and urban form. Part II will explore the current conditions of land regulation, specifically zoning, focusing on their weaknesses in prioritizing health.