Suburban Sprawl and Physical and Mental Health

Published in: Public Health, v. 118, no. 7, Oct. 2004, p. 448-496

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2003

by Roland Sturm, Deborah A. Cohen

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OBJECTIVE: To study the association between objective measures of suburban sprawl and chronic medical conditions and mental health disorders in the USA. METHODS: Cross-sectional analysis of survey data merged with objective measures of suburban sprawl. Outcomes are self-reported medical conditions, mental health disorders and health-related quality of life. RESULTS: Sprawl significantly predicts chronic medical conditions and health-related quality of life, but not mental health disorders. An increase in sprawl from one standard deviation less to one standard deviation more than average implies 96 more chronic medical problems per 1000 residents, which is approximately similar to an aging of the population of 4 years. CONCLUSIONS: A robust association between sprawl and physical (but not mental) health suggests that suburban design may be an important new avenue for health promotion and disease prevention.

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