Monday, September 27, 2004

Suburban Sprawl Sickening

So says the Chicago Sun Times (Mon. Sept. 27, p.4).

This article deals with a study that found a relationship between living in sprawling suburban zones and illnesses such as diabetes, migraine headaches, and hypertension. I'm no great fan of the suburbs, so reading this was a "yeah, duh" moment of sorts. I'm going to ask you to stretch your imaginations now and picture this article bothering me. Got it? Ok, I'll continue.

Someone mustn't have bothered to brief Mr. Jim Ritter, the Sun Times' health reporter, on elementary logic. Says he:

The study found that living in a high-sprawl area has the equivalent effect on your health as aging four years.

Oh does it now? Sorry jimbo, that's a fallacy and you know it. It's called post hoc ergo propter hoc - it happened after therefore it happened because of it. Since the health problems are observed in association with suburban sprawls, he concludes that the sprawls caused the health problems. Just what prevents the exact opposite from being true? Is it inconceivable that poor health causes people to seek out solitude and relative isolation in a white-picket-fence community?

And we're just getting started! This assumes the study wasn't flawed to begin with, since it controlled for demographic characteristics such as age, race, and income, but other behavioral and cultural factors such as family history, religious affiliation and level of participation, political orientation, etc. Ultimately, even if the correlation is there, we can't determine how much change is accounted for by it - or even in what direction!

Finally, the conclusion of co-author Deborah Cohen is that city planning should take this into account and prevent the development of sprawls that are dangerous to our health. Thanks a lot, Deb! Glad someone's looking out for me, but isn't it my choice if I want to trade 4 years of life (let's assume her data is accurate) for the satisfaction of living in a pleasant little community?

This smacks of nanny-statism, and I don't need to express how much this irritates me. And since when did a medical health professional become qualified as an economist, to decide that the unseen costs of so doing were exceeded by the known benefits?

To the Sun Times: Naughty! Check your facts and logic, don't be like Dan Rather/CBS.
To Deborah Cohen: Hands off, and you do your job while I do mine.

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