Connecting the dots in today’s paper

I found a distinct connection between a front-page story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle and the “Dear Abby” column.

The story is about a growing obesity problem among kids in California–which I suspect isn’t as bad as it is in a lot of other states. It’s a fairly long story, with some folks blaming food, others pointing out that there’s a lot less physical activity than there used to be. Since most obese kids grow into (even more?) obese adults, this is a long-term health issue of considerable proportions.

Then there’s the “Dear Abby” question. Some person’s niece, who lives next door, got a job “half a mile down the road” and this person is driving her to and from work–and would like to get $5 a week toward gas. Dear Abby gave one of those “is the family hassle worth the money?” answers.

I was saddened that she didn’t raise another question: Is there some reason the kid can’t walk ten minutes “down the road” and ten minutes back? (OK, for me it would be 8 minutes, but most reasonably-fit people can walk faster than 3 miles an hour.)

Maybe there is–maybe “down the road a piece” is in a terribly dangerous neighborhood–but those facts were not in evidence in the letter.

Have we really gotten to the point where it’s a wonderful thing to drive everywhere, no matter how short? Where a teenager can’t be expected to walk half a bloody mile?

If so, then there’s little reason to wonder about the obesity epidemic.

7 Responses to “Connecting the dots in today’s paper”

  1. Seth Finkelstein Says:

    “drive everywhere, no matter how short?”

    Isn’t this the state motto of California?
    (and has been for a long time, not new)

  2. walt Says:

    Southern California, maybe. We’re certainly not the only ones out walking around here…

  3. Seth Finkelstein Says:

    Sure, not everyone follows the drive-everywhere creed.

    But my impression is that California has had, for decades, a substantial culture of people who regard walking as what you do only in order to get to and from your car. The idea that you can walk to a specific destination is considered primitive, something like using candles for lighting, or washing clothes by hand.

  4. walt Says:

    A substantial culture, absolutely (a culture that exists in most states, I’d guess; NYC may be an exception). Maybe…probably…even the majority culture.

    But with the world’s fifth largest economy, it’s like the “nobody’s a California native” meme: Probably wrong for as many people as live in most smaller states. (Hmm. My wife and I are both natives of California north of the Tehachapis… There may be a connection.)

    [Almost any generalization about Californians is likely to be wrong for a few million of us...]

  5. Mark Beatty Says:

    If not a dangerous route, perhaps just a nice new suburban neighborhood, … where there are no longer any sidewalks or paths. Thus no “safe” way to walk, all planning devoted to car traffic only. If you design neighborhoods without sidewalks you get isolated neighbors and fat kids, go figure. .

  6. Dorothea Salo Says:

    There’s a woman in my cul-de-sac condo complex who is usually on my bus home from work. She lives in the building next to mine.

    As best I can tell, she drives her car to one of the open spaces near the entrance to the complex in the morning, because in the evening she gets into the car, drives it to her parking space, which is a door further down the complex than my door, and (presumably) goes home.

    All this, to avoid a three-minute (four in super-hot weather) walk! Blows my mind.

  7. Nicolas Morin Says:

    And during that, say, 5 mn drive, she has just enough time to eat… 1 Mars & 2 Bountys ;)


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