The Opposite of the Freshman Fifteen

My last post delved heavily into my personal struggles with food and fitness, and as I was writing I wondered what application all of that would have regarding the rest of my writing, which is typically centered on issues of urban livability and access to equitable transportation.  But as I stepped on a scale this past week to discover I had already gained more than 10 pounds since finishing my Master’s degree this spring, a light bulb came on.

Food and fitness are just as much about the built environment as are buildings, street trees, and transit.  You see, college campuses are a microcosm of what many urbanists strive to create in existing cities throughout the developed world.  They typically have some, if not all, of the following features:

  • A high concentration of pedestrian traffic
  • Limited and/or low-speed vehicular access through the core
  • A mix of uses (educational, employment, retail/food, residential/dorms)
  • A strong network of sidewalks (and sometimes bike infrastructure)
  • High levels of activity throughout the day
  • Centrally located green spaces
  • Higher density of employment and residences
  • Transit access (either campus-only service or connectivity to an area-wide system)

For me, my time on college campuses has been more active than my time away from school.  I walked between buildings and to transit.  I spent less time at a single desk, daydreaming about the next morsel of food I could ingest.  I jogged to get out of the rain or to catch a bus (sometimes unsuccessfully).  A well-equipped gym was located within walking distance.

Today, I am back to driving.  I drive to work, so that I can sit at a desk.  I drive to lunch, then back to work.  I drive to the gym.  I even have to drive to access a decent park.  And, all of this is driving me to eat.

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not blaming all 10 of those pounds on the environment.  I am still ultimately responsible for every calorie I consume.  I mean, how else would I explain the many other current and former college students who succumb to the Freshman Fifteen in spite of living in these urban oases?  Yet, I still can’t help but agree with the mounting evidence that unwalkable places are more to blame for our obesity epidemic than we’ve given credit for.

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