Why Are People In The Hood So Damn Sedentary?

The struggle with obesity is rooted in a number of variables such as working conditions, cultural eating habits, food desserts or wasteful snacking, lack of pedestrian infrastructure, lack of fitness centers, shoddy parks that are oftentimes unsafe spaces, and some people are simply lazy. Asides from the minority of individuals that are either simply lazy, adhere to terrible eating habits, or do not have adequate access to a grocery store, this article set out to explore the reason behind the startling spike in sedentary activity among those in low-income Black communities.

The first contributor to the increase in sedentary time for adults includes their access to a fitness center, or even flex-neighborhoods that promote physical activity. A flex-neighbor is a term I coined that simply means a neighborhood with consistent wide sidewalks, and bike lanes. Over the past decade this term has also been championed as Complete Streets. The term Complete Streets refers to communities with wide sidewalks and safe bike lanes, which in some instances are marked with green paint, and sidewalk furniture that includes public benches and bike racks. Many of the Complete Streets serve as extensions of neighborhood parks.

The unfortunate truth for marginalized communities is that oftentimes these Complete Streets are mostly found in affluent communities. Affluent is typically a coded word for predominantly white, thus subjecting marginalized communities to substandard bike lanes, if any. More importantly, there is an absence of wider sidewalks or sidewalks all together in the marginalized. This becomes a hazard for those seeking to go for a jog, or a stroll around their neighborhood. Of those most commonly affected are the elderly, those living in predominantly Black communities, and neighborhoods with a median household income less than $37,000 per year. These components will definitely promote a higher prevalence of sedentary activity in far too many communities, especially in Black neighborhoods. Kelly and colleagues (2007) were able to reveal that the racial makeup of a neighborhood was the only independent variable that was related to sidewalk walkability. More importantly, Black neighborhoods were composed of the highest percentage of sidewalk unevenness, and walking obstructions.

According to Blue Cross Blue Shield, when a neighborhood is decorated by sidewalks residents are 65% more likely to engage in outdoor walks. Along with their increased desire to walk, these same residents are 47 % more likely to engage in at least 39 minutes of walking. This is of huge importance, because 39 minutes of intentional walking can easily total up to 3,900 additional steps in your day. Further, in just 39 minutes of walking an individual would have completed 65% of the daily step total that is recommended for a person to not be considered sedentary. Thus, after achieving at least 6,000 steps per day an individual would be categorized as “low-activity”. However, even these modest daily step totals seem insurmountable given the high prevalence of sidewalk obstruction, and total lack of sidewalks in Black neighborhoods. One inquiry stands out the most during a 2003 focus group, which consisted of Black residents asking “How can you expect us to walk anywhere when it is unsafe to do so? We need sidewalks to make it safe.”

We have to continue remembering that race is not a variable that determines physical activity, yet race has become an independent variable to confirm which communities will receive funding for Complete Streets. In many cities, including Atlanta, the presence of Complete Streets in traditional Black communities is indicative of gentrification. This is oftentimes a code word for increases in property taxes, and an invasion of white homeowners in response to Black residents being forced out. There is an inherent flaw in the lack of pedestrian infrastructure in Black communities, namely sidewalks, or at least walkable sidewalk, and safe bike lanes. Thus, a Black resident should not have to choose between maintaining their homeownership status in their community, or receive proper funding for Complete Streets.


AARP Livable Communities. (n.d.). AARP Livability Fact Sheet - Sidewalks. Retrieved December 19, 2020, from https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/info-2014/sidewalks-fact-sheet.html

Blue Cross Blue Shield. (2020). Complete Streets. Retrieved December 19, 2020, from https://www.centerforpreventionmn.com/initiatives/complete-streets/

Kelly, C. M., Schootman, M., Baker, E. A., Barnidge, E. K., & Lemes, A. (2007). The association of sidewalk walkability and physical disorder with area-level race and poverty. Journal of epidemiology and community health, 61(11), 978–983. https://doi.org/10.1136/jech.2006.054775

McDonald, T. T. (2019, December 10). Bike lanes aren't just a white thing. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://shelterforce.org/2019/12/09/how-do-we-truly-make-streets-safer-for-everyone/

Taylor, W. C., Poston, W., Jones, L., & Kraft, M. K. (2006). Environmental Justice: Obesity, Physical Activity, and Healthy Eating. Journal of physical activity & health, 3(s1), S30–S54. https://doi.org/10.1123/jpah.3.s1.s30

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