When it comes to this condition, place matters.

One-third of adult Americans are obese. While it’s all too easy to dismiss obesity as a personal failure, doctors know it’s caused by a mix of biological and social factors. Poverty, race, access to healthy food, walkability, and access to public spaces have all been linked to the incidence of obesity—some more consistently than others.

What’s clear from the full body of research is that when it comes to this public health concern, place matters. To understand the environmental factors that contribute to the condition, the nonprofit research institute RTI International has created a new map that spotlights the at-risk population in neighborhoods across America.

"Although obesity is a national problem, many of the policies and interventions that would be most valuable in reducing obesity occur at the community or neighborhood level," Bill Wheaton, director of RTI’s Geospatial Science and Technology Program, said in a press release.  

The RTI map contains three layers of data. The first shows the share of adult population that’s obese within each 250-meter grid cell in the nation. Take the New York-New Jersey metro area below. The warmer the colors, the greater the share of obese adults in that region:

The second and third layers show (using different analytical approaches) hot spots where local obesity is much higher than the nation average. Through spatial cluster analyses, the researchers at RTI point out that these hot spots aren’t just random occurrences—they’re statistically significant. In other words, there’s something happening in these particular neighborhoods that’s fueling the high obesity rates.

Check out the areas of concern around Newark and the Bronx, filtered in the second-layer map below. The warmer regions show the clusters that are highly likely to be statistically significant:

Here’s how RTI hopes the map will be used by the research community:  

They can choose areas that match both the demographics AND the extent of the obesity program they are evaluating. Thus, program evaluators can measure apples to apples.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    With Trains Like Schwebebahn, No Wonder Germans Love Public Transit

    Infrastructure like this makes it clear why Germany continues to produce enthusiasm for public transit, generation after generation.

  2. Amazon HQ2

    Without Amazon HQ2, What Happens to Housing in Queens?

    The arrival of the tech company’s new headquarters was set to shake up the borough’s real estate market, driving up rents and spurring displacement. Now what?

  3. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  4. Life

    The Town Where Retirees Can’t Retire

    In fast-aging pockets of rural America, older residents are going back to work. But not always because they need the money.

  5. Equity

    The FBI's Forgotten War on Black-Owned Bookstores

    At the height of the Black Power movement, the Bureau focused on the unlikeliest of public enemies: black independent booksellers.