2. Built environment
Of course, it’s not just our diets that contribute to childhood obesity. It’s also the built environments of the neighborhoods where most of us raise our families.
When my family moved to our current hometown of Portland, Oregon, we fastidiously researched the Walk Scores of every house we toured because we didn’t own a car at the time. Our house’s score of 82 is far above the national average of 49 — and would also be far out of our price range today. Though most Americans want walkability, that’s not what most Americans get.
In fact, even though the 1990s found many of us disenchanted with the car-dependent, consumer-fueled suburbs that had been continually sprawling over the prior decades, they still kept sprawling. The frenzy resumed in earnest at the dawn of the 21st century, with suburbs growing three times as fast as cities during its first decade.
At the dawn of the century’s third decade, Realtor Magazine reported that “the number of home buyers shopping nationwide for suburban homes has jumped 42.1% since the pandemic began.” With the rise of remote work, the gutting of downtown office buildings, and increases in violent crime, the suburbs just might be staging yet another comeback.
Which, unless we dramatically reimagine how we build our suburbs, is too bad for us and even worse for our kids. They grow up with the notion that getting from point A to point B automatically involves a car. And, of course, they spend a lot of time sitting in said car.
Even in our eminently walkable neighborhood, my kids were two of only a dozen children who walked regularly to elementary school. And while I can’t say our kids have ever been enthusiastic about our “weekend walk” tradition — that is, until we start our walk, at which point we tend to all thoroughly enjoy ourselves — the vehemence of my daughter’s protests has reached new levels of intensity.
“Normal” families, she says, don’t walk places. And they especially don’t walk just for the sake of walking.