Why are rural folks fatter than urban – It’s not laziness it is environment – Part 1

Here is the lead in the Guardian – PEI’s paper of record.

Obesity rates in Prince Edward Island are among the highest in the country. Overall, about 62 per cent of Canadians weigh more than they should. The obesity rates vary from a low of five per cent in Richmond, B.C. to 32 per cent in Kings County, P.E.I. and nearly 36 per cent in the Mamawetan/Keewatin/Athabaska region in Saskatchewan. The rates were below the national average in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Clearly there seems to be a greater percentage of Canadians in rural areas plagued with excessive weight. What are the reasons for this? Is it because of less access to fitness and recreation programs?

We all know that we should be less fat as a group but other than exhort each other to eat better and take more exercise, we are lost. And anyway who knows that Eat Better and Take more Exercise means anyway. It’s not advice that works.

So I am going to play around here this week with a few ideas and insights that may help us do better.

Rural/Urban – Today I will explore with you “What are the Urban/Rural Factors Really?” – We will find that the difference has nothing to do with exercise programs or recreation. Later I will talk about:

Social Norms – How having fat friends makes us fat

Ancestral Heritage – How where your family come from has a huge affect. Why if you are First Nations or Scots and Irish (Much of PEI) you are more at risk.

Social Status and Control – If you work and live in a major city, like Toronto, New York, Paris and London you get status from that and if you live in a rural setting you lose status.

So today why people who live in Cities tend to be thinner than those of us who live in rural settings?

What do you notice about these 2 pictures? First a Paris setting.

Now New York


Walking in the street is part of life in big cities. The irony is that the car plays much less of a role. So the entire design of life is to make it easy to get what you need on foot.

A huge component of why people are thinner in these cities is not that they are all in the gym – but that they are more active. It is activity not exercise that is a major factor.

In a later post we will explore explore the issue of social norms too – In New York, a 130 pound woman is over weight. On PEI she is thin. We will also explore status. In New York you have a cache that in Alberton you may not.

Now what about this typical rural setting?


In rural America and Canada, we drive everywhere. You cannot walk if you wanted to because most streets have poor or no sidewalks. Our entire life is centred around the car. We sit all day. Again even if you did go to the gym – you do not have enough activity designed into your life.

Do gyms and programs matter much. They sure cost a lot. Now what about these kids?


Pick up basket ball is a feature of New York life. The costs are low and the habit is there. As is the social density.

And now these ones?


The New York or London kid goes back and forth to school using public transport and walking. We bus all out kids door to door.  Once we are home, we have to drive our kids to a game or a gym. There tends to be very little cheap common space. I think hockey – does every small town need a big rink? What about outdoor rinks? We could use our imagination and do better? Do the kids have to come back from school at 2.30 anyway?

Most parents are not home. Why not make the afternoon at school into the opportunity? Also get the homework done there and then and end the conflict at home.

What about this store?


In big cities the zoning encourages the small and the local. People walk to their shops. In rural settings we have done the opposite. All the local stores are gone now.

What we have left is this!


And what about this choice of food? In urban centres there is much better food on offer. It’s ironic but true.


versus this one – This is the Aisle of Choice in rural culture.

What about getting around like this – the bike is becoming the vehicle of choice in many cities. Adoption is made easier by aggressive bike programs – bike rentals, bike lanes


Versus this?

Bike are just starting to make sense of use in Town – But with a good plan, we could do so much more. Gas prices are not going down over time.

So being fat in rural Canada and the US is a matter of the environment and not that we in rural settings are all lazy bums.

It does not help to sut back and feel helpless – we can look at how we might design back activity and food choice.

More tomorrow. Here is a neat article too

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