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Washington StateThe Collaborative on Health and the Environment – Washington

A Partnership Network for Environmental Health
Established and Coordinated by the Institute for Children's Environmental Health

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Sprawl, Land Use & Health

Sprawl can be defined as "dispersed, compartmentalized, automobile-oriented urban development". It is often measured by residential density – the number of people who live in each acre. Sprawl is associated with several health effects, especially obesity, diabetes, and injuries and death resulting from automobile accidents.

Recent books on sprawl, land use and health include:

  • Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning and Building for Healthy Communities by Howard Frumkin, Lawrence Frank and Richard Jackson (2004) Island Press
  • Sprawl Kills: How Blandblurbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money by Joel Hirschhorn (2005) Sterling & Ross Publishers
  • Health and Community Design: The Impact of the Built Environment on Physical Activity by Lawrence Frank et al. (2003) Island Press

Summary of Information on Washington State

From National Organizations:

We were unable to find any information from national organizations on Washington State directly linking sprawl, land use and health. There is, however, information available from national organizations on health effects resulting from sprawl including obesity, diabetes, and injuries and death resulting from automobile accidents.

Obesity

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System has information on the rate of obesity in Washington State for 1990-2002. Over this time period, obesity increased from 9.4-21.3%. In more detail:

  • 58% of adults in Washington are overweight or obese;
  • 22% of non-Hispanic white adults, 32% of non-Hispanic black adults, and 24% of Hispanic adults in Washington are obese; and
  • 21% of Washington high-school students are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

Other national organizations with information on obesity in Washington State include the American Obesity Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diabetes

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System has information on the rate of diabetes in Washington State in 2004. The prevalence of diabetes in Washington State is close to the national median, ranking 24th out of 50 in 2003.

Other national organizations with information on diabetes in Washington State include the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.

Injuries and Deaths from Automobile Accidents

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's report on "Traffic Safety Facts 2003" contains information on traffic injuries and fatalities nationally, including Washington State. When comparing road fatalities across the country, Washington State is close to the national average, ranking 23 rd out of 50 in 2003.

From Regional Organizations:

Sightline (formerly Northwest Environment Watch), a regional non-profit organization, has published the Cascadia Scorecard, which identifies sprawl as one of seven key indicators for creating a sustainable economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest. Sightline's website on sprawl contains information on many cities in the Northwest, including Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.

Sightline, in collaboration with Transportation Choices, has prepared a series of factsheets on sprawl and health connections including:

Sightline has also prepared an archive of literature "on the intersection of sprawl and health". This archive lists several relevant studies.

From State Organizations:

We were unable to find any information on Washington State from State-based organizations directly linking sprawl, land use and health. There is, however, information available on Washington State from State organizations on the health effects resulting from sprawl, including obesity, diabetes, and injuries and death resulting from automobile accidents.

Obesity

Washington State Department of Health has a website on "Improving Health with Nutrition and Physical Activity". It includes some "Facts & Figures". There is also information on obesity in "The Health of Washington State 2002". This information reports that in 2002 over half of all Washington State residents were considered obese (21%) or overweight (38%). The prevalence of obesity has increased dramatically in recent years. Obesity rates are higher in groups with lower incomes. African America and American Indian populations have higher rates than other ethnic groups.

The "Washington Youth Risk Behavior Survey 1999" states that 14% of all high school children in Washington State are overweight and 7% are obese.

Diabetes

There is information on diabetes in Washington State in "The Health of Washington State 2002". This includes information on rates of diabetes in ethnic populations and people living in poverty. There is also information available on rates of diabetes in different counties in Washington State.

Information on diabetes in Washington State shows that about 217,000 Washingtonians have been diagnosed with diabetes, with about 109,000 having undiagnosed diabetes. Washington rates increased from 3.6% in 1996 to 5.2% in 1999, however they are significantly less than the national rates.

Injuries and Death from Automobile Accidents

The Washington State Department of Health has information on fatal and non-fatal injuries caused by a variety of different factors, including automobile accidents. This information is available by county and for 1994-2004.

Automobile accidents are the leading cause of unintentional deaths for Washington State residents aged 0-64 years.

Another study on Analysis of "Roadside Accident Frequency and Severity and Roadside Safety Management" looked at roadside conditions and accidents.

Information on collisions between bicycles and cars is available from the Washington State Department of Transportation website on "Bicycle Collision Data Report".

From Local Organizations:

King County has a major study on "Land Use, Transportation, Air Quality and Health". This study is exploring how travel patters, health and overall quality of life are impacted by specific land use and transportation decisions.

One study, "Analysis of Circumstances and Injuries in 217 Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities", looked at pedestrian fatalities in Seattle.

From Academic Institutions:

A recent study on "Many Pathways from Land Use to Health associates low density housing and disconnected street networks with health. This study summarizes data from King County and elsewhere. Other studies on sprawl in the Seattle region include:

There is also information from academic institutions available on obesity and diabetes.

Obesity

A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on "A Comprehensive Examination of Health Conditions Associated with Obesity in Older Americans" looked at older adults in western Washington. The results strengthen the association between obesity, diabetes, hypertension, pancreatitis, chronic fatigue and insomnia.

Diabetes

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Information on Washington State in Context

There is very little information available that directly links sprawl, land use and health at a state level, so it is difficult to contextualize the information on Washington State.

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Quality of Information on Washington State

There is very little information available directly linking sprawl, land use and health in Washington State. This may be because this is a relatively new subject of concern and scientific studies have not yet been conducted.

There is, however, good information available on Washington State for many of the health effects that have been generally associated with sprawl and land use, including obesity, diabetes, and injuries and death from automobile accidents.

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General Information Sources

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System: www.cdc.gov/brfss/

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's report on "Traffic Safety Facts 2003": www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSFAnn/TSF2003F.pdf

Sightline's website on the "Cascadia Scorecard": www.sightline.org/research/cascadia_scorecard/

The Washington State Department of Health: www.doh.wa.gov/

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