BY: Keean Guerrero, Jino Lee, Delaney Simmonds, Rylee Tucker
Nebraska is currently ranked 14th among states in the US for highest rates of obesity, with the rate of 31.4% prevalence of obese adults (The State of Obesity). In 2005, Omaha alone had a rate of 27% of obese adults while the state of Nebraska’s rate was 24.4% (US CDC; The State of Obesity). This means that Omaha is one of the largest contributors to the issue that Nebraska deals with. These rates are steadily increasing year after year. One of the biggest factors that contributes to the problem is the use of personal vehicles that does not allow for much physical activity. Omaha provides an extensive bus route that connects gyms, parks, walking trails, and bike trails that all give huge opportunities for exercise. While the access to these places along the route are great, the amount of fast food restaurants that are available as well is excessive. This study will be analyzing and comparing the available bus route in relation to the gyms, parks, trails, and fast food restaurants and their contribution to the obesity rate in Omaha.
This study utilized sources such as Google Maps, Ometro, and the City of Omaha Parks website in order to form a “master map” of Omaha. The locations of thirteen parks, four gym franchises, and two major fast food chains were recorded and compared throughout this study along with all of the major bus routes of the Metro bus system. Through an understanding gained from primary research papers, this study was able to make some conclusions as to how the setup illustrated in the “master map” could be contributing to obesity in Omaha.
Efficiency of Bus Route
The bus, which is a representative public transportation system in Omaha, is provided by a company called Metro. As shown in the photo, there are 27 routes on the weekdays and 17 routes on the weekends. Passengers pay anywhere from $1.00 to $1.50 when they take a bus once, and an additional fee of $0.25 if they make a transfer. Passengers who frequent buses can get a pass for 10 times of riding or a 30 day plan. As shown in Figure 1, except for seven routes operating on weekdays, almost all routes are concentrated in the downtown area. Also, Metro recommends that passengers need about 90 consecutive minutes on the weekdays and 120 consecutive minutes on weekends if they transfer one time when they use the bus as a transportation. (Ometro)
Figure 1. Map of route
According to the National Transit Database from the U.S Department of Transportation in 2015, Omaha’s Urbanized ranking is 58th, with a total area of 271mi² and a population of 725,008. Buses which are provided by Metro cover 561,920 people, which is 77% of the population, and cover 65% of the Urbanized area, which is 178 mi². As a result of using NTD data to compare three cities with similar Urbanized environments such as Omaha, the percentages of the covered population from the rest of the cities, except Buffalo in New York, were similar to the rate of Omaha, but the percentage of areas where Omaha transit was provided was lower than the percentage of Dayton in Ohio, which was one rank lower than Omaha’s ranking in Urbanization. (U.S Department of Transportation).
Figure 2. National Transit Data
Based on the above data, the Omaha public transport environment plays a proper role for weekday commuting as considering the proportion of the population that can be accommodated or the area covered by it, except that it is concentrated in the particular area. The cost of using the bus is also reasonable, allowing students or children to use it at a lower price, and also offers a plan to use a commuter pass for frequent passengers. However, the bus interval provided by Metro is about 30 minutes on average, and the time difference between when using the vehicle and when using the public transportation is obviously distinguished.
The use of public transport increases physical activity to achieve daily recommended activity levels, prevents obesity, and is also effective in encouraging weight loss. The difference was clear when going to commute by bus and bicycle for more than six weeks. (Chaix, Kestens, Duncan, …, Pannier, 2014). There are also some successful results in the use of methods to lower the rate of obesity, such as making facilities to increase citizens’ physical activity or providing services such as bicycle rental systems. (Trowbridge & Schmid, 2013). This study analyzed how close Omaha’s public transit buses are to parks, exercise facilities, and gyms for people’s physical activities and how well citizens can use them by public transportation. On the other hand, we decided to see how fast food accessibility differs from facilities for physical activity.
Accessibility to Gyms & Fitness Centers
This study assessed the top four most inexpensive gyms and fitness centers in Omaha and their relation to main roads and the Ometro bus route. The four most inexpensive centers included Planet Fitness, whose rates charged a $1.00 startup fee followed by a $19.99/month rate, Anytime Fitness, that charges no startup fee with a rate of $29.99/month, Blue Moon Fitness, with a $49.00 startup fee and $10.00/month, and finally the YMCA who charges $49.00 initially and $42.00/month for an adult (Anytime Fitness; Blue Moon Fitness; Planet Fitness; YMCA). There are thirteen of these four centers around the Omaha metro area, all within access of the main roads. Ten of the centers are directly located along the Ometro bus route itself and the remaining three are within reasonable walking distance of the route (Google Maps; Ometro).
With the knowledge of the locations and prices of these gyms it can be said that there are a number of options for residents of the city of Omaha to utilize the gyms near them. While this is true, there are also great amounts of sociological factors as to why this is true, yet the levels of obesity are still so high. Although the prices of these gyms seem reasonable at first glance, they do require people to have leftover spending money from the necessities of everyday life to cover it. That is not always an option for a lot of people in the middle to lower classes. Also, people rarely have the extra time required to put forth to exercising at a gym due to the daily responsibilities they possess. And if personal transportation is an issue, and the bus route is the solution, it is still extremely time consuming to use the bus system. This is because the bus makes frequent stops to cater to many people’s’ needs, rather than going directly to the destinations individual riders need. Often times the stops also require further transportation on foot to reach the actual destination, in this case, the gym. Another possible reason for the lack of use of the fitness centers is that people tend to quit going to the gym after a while due to a number of reasons. Many gyms charge cancellation fees, so if there is a possibility of cancelling, someone may not want to join in the first place. Also, many people pay for these memberships that go unused, so it may be unappealing to even start it. All of these sociological components can provide explanations for lack of healthy lifestyles.
It should be noted that numerous amounts of data and research have found that an active lifestyle is extremely beneficial to health, particularly a healthy weight. The Mayo Clinic created a list of the top 7 benefits of regular exercise which highlighted a number of overall life benefits especially with weight control. It is clear that weight loss can only majorly be achieved with regular physical activity (CDC). Gyms provide the opportunity to engage in everyday activity that can aid in reducing the high levels of obesity that exist in Omaha. While it is great that the use of fitness centers are readily available, there are astounding reports of their lack of use, even with current memberships. In 2012 it was reported that 80% of gym members who recently joined quit after only five months (Lake, 2014). And even with those who continued their memberships, only half of them go on a regular basis (Lake, 2014). Even more surprisingly, gym owners only expect around 18% of their members to even use the gym regularly (Lake, 2014). These findings provide great insight to the sociological factors that seem to be the underlying major issues with proper activity levels. Clearly the chances to create an active lifestyle are there and many people are taking the first step to achieve that, but unfortunately that standard is not being held up for long.
Fortunately if people can become motivated to stick to a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, the accessibility to that lifestyle is very easy. Omaha provides a public bus route that allows people without personal transportation, a method to navigate around the city. Along that route are a number of gyms that have a variety of price ranges that can suit a great amount of people who are interested. Omaha is providing the tools for an easily accessible healthy lifestyle and it is up to the residents to engage in it or not.
Accessibility of Public Facilities
This study also looked at the fairly abundant amount of parks available to Omaha citizens and their accessibility from main roads and bus routes. Before narrowing the scope down to Omaha specifically, it is important to understand the positive role that parks play in reducing obesity rates. As was found in an article by Heidi M. Blanck, about 30% of adults that are physically active claim to exercise in parks. This is just an example of the correlation that is shown between having easily accessible parks and some sort of physical activity. Parks play an especially important role in the health of children. One study outlined in the article suggests that the usage of parks by children may lead them to want to make other healthy choices in life, and in turn, reduce the likelihood of becoming obese. Overall, there is a clear correlation between both adults and children having access to parks and a lower likelihood of obesity. This makes it that much important for this study to take these public facilities into account when forming a master map of Omaha.
Looking at parks with the bare minimum, a playground, our study found that there are 157 parks located in Omaha (Omaha Parks). Of these 157 parks, only 13 advertise having “paths” or “trails” included. These 13 parks were included on the master map and seem to occupy a lot of space in the central areas of Omaha. This allows for easier access by personal transportation, the Metro bus system, and even walking. While 13 parks out of 157 does not seem like very much in regards to accessibility of trails to walk, it is important to remember that all parks offer the potential for some sort of exercise and trails are not a necessity. Having 157 playgrounds in Omaha allows for very easy access to healthy lifestyle opportunities, especially for children.
That being said, a sociological lens must be used in analysis to better understand how the obesity rates in Omaha are so high despite the abundance of parks in the area. It is not very common for adults to spend their time at parks unless they have a child to bring and, even still, taking a trip to the park can consume time that many families simply do not have. Parks are generally visited during the daylight hours and, in most cases, the daylight hours are consumed by jobs and other activities. In the case of children, parks often require crossing busy streets and adult supervision which may not be available whenever they want it. When looking at parks that advertise having trails to walk, accessibility becomes even more difficult. Not many people have the time to travel to these designated parks that may be somewhat out of their way. Only the stronger motivated people would be willing to get on a bus or into a car in order to travel to an area with approved trails to walk on. Aside from those that happen to live next to these locations, it is far more likely that other sources of exercise will be utilized before an effort is made to go to a park on a regular basis.
Overall, Omaha has a pretty abundant amount of resources available to its citizens when it comes to outdoor recreation. The amount of parks does not seem to be a leading factor to the high levels of obesity. The issue in this area seems to come from a sociological end rather than the physical layout of the city.
Accessibility to Fast Food Restaurants
While accounting for how physically active may be due to the number of parks, gyms, and the transportation we must take into account the way the people of Omaha eat can contribute to obesity. Those who do walk to parks and gyms will be bombarded by a staggering amount of fast food restaurants. There are over two hundred different fast food restaurants just in the small area we mapped out, just to get an idea of the type of food there are 43 McDonalds and Burger Kings in Omaha some are even on the same block. Fast food companies are smart in placing so many of their stores throughout Omaha giving a surplus of opportunities to purchase the greasy saturated food.
It was mentioned how taking the bus consumed a excessive amount of time, add that to the necessary amount of time for exercise and you find there is now no time to eat. Convenience pulls the short timed and hungry customers in, so why not have a restaurant neighbored to parks or gyms. Hundreds of different easy fast meals hit the market to catch the eyes of those for a quick meal, but the prices don’t agree with the wallet. Looking at maps of locations of gyms side by side to locations of fast food we see that every gym has at least two restaurants next to or on the same block. Just to get into one of the parks you must pass a couple more fast food places, so if you have kids with you it would be a quick stop and go before you catch the next bus. Even if time was not that big of an issue, say on a weekend, for a family it would save money to go to McDonalds rather than say an Applebee’s, Chili’s, or any other expensive restaurant in the area. Families need to be eating fresh or unprocessed produce to stay healthy and lower the obesity in Omaha, but with a fast food joint every other building and few natural produce stores who can blame them.
Gathering information from articles adolescence and young adults are more influenced by the social aspect of eating. They gather has a time to socialize and do not focus on the amount of food they are eating and over consume their calories, If not the aspect of overeating then an even worse sociological take on eating, like body ideology. Some people will not eat or go to extreme diets to lose an unhealthy amount of weight, but there is a yo-yo effect on the body. The person’s body will gain more weight than what was lost with the now slowed metabolism. Impressing others for social reasons is just on last cause for obesity.
In conclusion, Omaha’s public transport will play a better role in raising the physical activity of citizens and lowering the rate of obesity if the company makes a route that increases the number of buses or reduces the number of transfers to reduce the time consumption when people use it. Accessibility of the facility for physical activity through public transportation was high enough to be available if people are willing to use it, and it can be used reasonably and conveniently even when viewed from the economic aspect. However, the accessibility of facilities that can increase the obesity rate of Omaha, such as fast food, was significantly higher than that of facilities for promoting physical activity. Omaha’s high rate of obesity can not be attributed to access to facilities for physical activity or the poor environment of public transport. Psychological factors and sociological factors of people can have a sufficient influence. To resolve high rate obesity in Omaha, both social and individual efforts should be made and we need to discuss in many different view of area for better results.
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