Where We Live Matters

Obesity is not just the result of what we eat. It can also be the result of where we live.


With obesity rates in the region and the nation continuing to increase, researchers and transportation planners have developed a series of maps that illustrate how the environment in which we live may be impacting our waistlines.

The maps or “Healthy Communities Atlas” offer a detailed look at a series of issues including:

  • Is it easy to walk or ride a bike in the neighborhood?
  • Are there grocery stores that sell healthy foods, or only convenience stores and fast food?
  • Do residents have access to health services?
  • Are the streets safe?
  • Is the air clean?
  • Are there parks where children can play?

“We have mapped these conditions to show that there are areas of the region that are negatively impacting health outcomes and that they can be improved through policy, systems and environmental change, to address rising obesity rates,” said Vikrant Sood, Senior Regional Planner for SANDAG, which developed the 82-page maps with a $215,000 grant through the County’s Healthy Works program.

Healthy Works is a countywide initiative making systems and environmental changes while promoting wellness and addressing obesity. The project also is part of the County’s Live Well, San Diego! initiative, a 10-year plan to improve the health and well-being of local residents.

The atlas, which took 18 months to develop, allows communities to see the specific relationships between the numerous neighborhood characteristics that impact the health of their residents.

For example, communities with good sidewalks make it more attractive for people to walk, and walking helps residents be healthier and less overweight or obese.

“The environment in which we live affects our health…Some regions in our county have higher rates of obesity than others,” said Lindsey McDermid, program director for the Chronic Disease and Health Equity Unit of the County’s Health and Human Services Agency. “The maps show us where there are disparities in transportation access, where access to healthy food is limited, so that we can reach the people that are in highest need.”

In the United States, more than 66 percent of all adults are overweight or obese and 20 percent of all children considered obese. Locally, about 55 percent of all adults are overweight or obese and approximately 10 percent of all children are obese.

Health and transportation officials hope cities use the maps in their local planning efforts and adopt policies that will help improve the health of their residents.

“Health is currently not part of any agency’s decision-making process,” Sood said. “We hope to raise awareness and to provide data and information for planning and decision-making at the local and regional level.”

José A. Álvarez is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact