Living in an area with a higher number of gyms and other exercise facilities nearby is associated with smaller waistlines, lower body mass index (BMI) and less body fat, according to a study in Lancet Public Health. Researchers tapped a national database of health information on about 400,000 people, ages 40 to 70, from across the United Kingdom. They correlated these data with information on the number of exercise facilities such as gyms, swimming pools and playing fields within about a half mile.
The study found that a higher density of exercise facilities was associated with modestly lower average waistlines, BMI, and percent body fat. In contrast, distance from fast food shops was not consistently associated with smaller waistlines, BMI, or body fats. Previous studies have come to similar conclusions.
Because these findings are observational and the participants were not tracked over time, the study cannot rule out the possibility that individuals who were generally healthier and already had smaller waists and lower body fat had consciously chosen to live near exercise facilities, which could also explain the findings.
If such findings can be confirmed by interventional studies, they may inform ways of designing cities that could reduce underlying environmental causes of obesity, the study authors noted. “We know a lot about what individuals need to do to be healthy, but through better planning we might be able to make it easier for people to make healthy choices about exercise and food,” says study lead author Kate E. Mason, MPH, a PhD candidate at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.