A new study reports that people who live in areas with high levels of suburban sprawl, such as Atlanta and Detroit, are more likely to have chronic health problems—high blood pressure, arthritis, and headaches, for example—than people who live in densely populated areas, including New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The study, published in the October issue of Public Health, drew on interviews with more than 8,600 adults and took into consideration differences in age, race, socioeconomics, and regional climate. The individuals studied lived in 38 metropolitan areas indexed for suburban sprawl, using such measures as street connectivity, land-use mix, and density.

The study was done to try to uncover some factors contributing to the record levels of obesity in America, according to Roland Sturm, lead researcher on the study and senior economist for the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research group. The bottom line appears to be that the more time people have to spend in their cars getting to work, school, shopping, and other such activities, the more it impacts their health.

“I wouldn't make the big jump to saying we should only build new urban environments,” Sturm says, “but if you care about health, you might want to build environments where people are naturally more physically active.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.