Walking, obesity, and the “right to roam”

Slate is running a series of articles on walking. Americans walk less than citizens of any industrialized country. Studies have shown that the average American adult takes 5,117 steps each day as compared to the nearly 10,000 steps both Australians and Swiss take daily. Greater levels of walking (as well as cycling) has been shown to be linked to lower levels of obesity. As an inveterate walker (75 minutes a day, everyday), I read the series with great interest and thought of how difficult the layout of many of our cities makes it to be a walker. When I walk in Phoenix with cars a couple feet away from the narrow sidewalk whizzing by me at 45 mph, I realize it may be the most dangerous activity I will engage in that day.

Walking in Nashville

So I could help but envy residents in the United Kingdom when a few days later I read an article about the ongoing struggle to implement the “right to roam” laws that have been enacted in England, Wales and Scotland. These measures created a right to walk on vast swaths of privately owned land including mountain, moor, heath, down and common land. A massive mapping effort was undertaken to identify exactly what areas would be open to the public.

Right to roam map

While landowners have fought the increased access, the laws have resulted in significant increases in acreage open to the public. One wonders if these laws will help reverse a trend in Great Britain that has seen walking decrease by 25% over the past quarter century.

If you want to check out how friendly your neighborhood or community is for walking and walkers, you may want to check out its Walk Score.