Effects of Urban Sprawl on Obesity

41 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2009 Last revised: 7 Mar 2021

See all articles by Zhenxiang Zhao

Zhenxiang Zhao

University of Illinois at Chicago

Robert Kaestner

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 2009


In this paper, we examine the effect of changes in population density--urban sprawl--between 1970 and 2000 on BMI and obesity of residents in metropolitan areas in the US. We address the possible endogeneity of population density by using a two-step instrumental variables approach. We exploit the plausibly exogenous variation in population density caused by the expansion of the U.S. Interstate Highway System, which largely followed the original 1947 plan for the Interstate Highway System. We find a negative association between population density and obesity and estimates are robust across a wide range of specifications. Estimates indicate that if the average metropolitan area had not experienced the decline in the proportion of population living in dense areas over the last 30 years, the rate of obesity would have been reduced by approximately 13%.

Suggested Citation

Zhao, Zhenxiang and Kaestner, Robert, Effects of Urban Sprawl on Obesity (October 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15436, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1498918

Zhenxiang Zhao

University of Illinois at Chicago ( email )

1200 W Harrison St
Chicago, IL 60607
United States

Robert Kaestner (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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New York, NY 10004
United States

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