Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Mowing a Lawn with a Power Mower Equals Riding a Bike to Work? Stats Can's Spin Is Wrong--and Dangerous

So suburbanites and urban dwellers spend about the same time being physically active? That’s what a new Statistics Canada study would have us believe, that’s what their press release on the study says. But if you look more closely at the whole report some really important differences show up. It’s almost as if Stats Can were trying to provide an apology for automobile-based living.

The study was a large one of people living in several kinds of neighborhoods in Canada’s biggest cities, among them Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. The participants were asked to keep a time-use diary of what they did. The data were collected from 19,597 respondents, who are said to represent nearly 26.1 million people.

The results indicated that people in suburbs are much less likely to walk or bike in their daily lives, but get exercise working outside on their property. On this basis, the Stats Can press release says that “people living in low-density residential areas are as likely to be physically active over the course of a day as those in high-density areas.”

Very few news stories reporting on the study pointed out that the kind of lawn-mowing and snow shoveling this entailed probably was assisted by machines. None of the stories that I saw featured the next finding: “However, people living in the central neighbourhoods of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas are the most likely of all to be physically active.”

The study report adds that for persons who spent at least nine hours of their day at work or at school and "do not necessarily have time to engage in physical recreation activities, area of residence—urban or suburban—made a huge difference in physical activity. Of those who lived in urban neighbourhoods, 26% made at least one physically active trip. The same was true for only 9%, or about three times fewer proportionally, of the ones living in typically suburban neighbourhoods....The difference is so large (in the group aged 25 to 34) that it affects the overall level of physical activity in the age group: 59% of urban dwellers in the group had at least 20 minutes of physical activity during the day, compared with 49% for those living in the suburbs.

"In short, living in a typically suburban neighbourhood discourages physically active travel in general, with even stronger effects on some groups. That information may be important in campaigns to promote physical activity, particularly those aimed at getting sedentary people to do more.”

The problem is larger than advertising campaigns though. Dense, public transit-friendly, walkable neighborhoods are not only vital to reduce our dependence on petroleum, but for our health as well. Now to get the message across to those who make the decisions about what is built where. Unfortunately the spin given on this study isn't going to help much.

1 comment:

lagatta à montréal said...

I was pleased to see you comment, as the press release struck me as b.s. - like the recent press release challenging the benefits of organic food.

Reminded me of the nonsense people write in to the Gazette, La Presse (Cyberpresse) and other media denying climate change and whining about threats to the centrality of the car in our cities.