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Research Project

Are Sprawl and Obesity Related? Evidence from the Chicago Area

The primary result is that there are many sociodemographic variables that exhibit a stronger association with obesity than sprawl. Disadvantaged neighborhoods have the highest BMI levels. In particular neighborhoods with low education levels, low income and high proportions of African Americans and Latinos are most likely to have high BMI levels. Conversely the North Shore communities of Kenilworth, Glencoe and Winnetka have the lowest BMIs. In the city of Chicago the Lincoln Park and Gold Coast areas have the lowest BMIs.

Principal Investigator
Sööt, Siim
Research Area(s)
Data Development
Funding Source
Illinois Department of Transportation


The purpose of this research was to determine whether there are any correlations between sprawl and obesity.  Researchers used ZIP code and driver’s license information to identify people who were selected for the project.  Researchers sought to determine to what extent urban sprawl contributes to obesity. Some suggest that highways cause urban sprawl and therefore expansion of the highway network is at the root cause of obesity.  While we have shown in our earlier reports that there is only a tenuous connection between highways and sprawl and other factors seem to be much more important, the perception that highways cause sprawl persists. Download the "Are Sprawl and Obesity Related? Evidence from the Chicago Area" report.