Morbid Inactivity


        In a recent conversation with a dietician, I mentioned morbid inactivity as an instructive alternative to morbid obesity as a medical diagnosis.  The upshot of the interaction was that influencing the activity of a large fraction of the population would help our target group more than confining our efforts to those already afflicted with obesity.

        This article is aimed at planning commissions, zoning boards and the public in an effort to build pedestrian friendly and bicycle friendly opportunities (quasi-necessities) into the architecture of our cities and towns.  Activity that is part of everyone’s daily routine is much more effective than intermittent penance in gyms and health clubs. I remember seeing enclosed bicycle lockers at commuter  railroad stations in the San Francisco suburbs.  The difference between otherwise similar obese and normal weight people is usually only 100 to 200 calories per day.  If you ask, “Diet calories or exercise calories?” the answer is, “It doesn’t matter.”

        The inspiration for this came while driving through Morgantown, West Virginia, and noting an aerial tramway for the convenience of pedestrians on one of that city’s many large hills.  My first thought was that the locals should walk up their hills.  In the real world the tramway probably contributes more to fitness than to inactivity by making it more convenient for people to refrain from using their automobiles for short trips in Morgantown.  I am definitely not a qualified city planner. The following are some websites to supply authoritative details of city planning as an aid to healthy lifestyle:




> (see

>the section titled, "The Twinkie Tax"






            Here are several (amateur planned) suggestions for Monroe along the lines of my assumed motivation for the aerial tramway in Morgantown.  All of the school children west of the highway bypass are bussed to school--even those within a few blocks of Parkside School.  A pedestrian overpass near the school would not only enhance walking to school but also ultimately pay for itself in saved bus expense.  So what if the savings come from a different budget.  It is all the same public’s money.  The enhancement in physical activity would be free (or cost less than nothing). 

          Second, pedestrian access to Recreation Park by a large area of Monroe would be enhanced by a walkway over the railroad south of the park.  This would be relatively inexpensive because the tracks are in a deep cut at that point.  Even adults would use this overpass—the convenience would be so great.  Finally, Boulder, Colorado, has some new subdivisions with paved pedestrian shortcuts independent of the streets.

           These are the kinds of new ideas that I am recommending to our experts.  I am sure they know of many more.  My perspective is that of a physician and city official motivated to enhance future health.  Final thought: overweight people who get regular exercise are healthier than coach potatoes of “ideal” weight.

John A. Frantz, M.D.        See also Can cities be designed to fight obesity in THE LANCET,   Monroe City Council                    Vol 362, pages 1046-7, September 27, 2003

February 5, 2005