All posts in “health”

Do You Live in a Food Desert?

A food desert is a neighborhood without access to healthy food.  Why does this matter? Living in a food desert can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease1.

Walk Score helps you make more informed decisions about where to live, like finding an apartment or buying a home within walking distance of a grocery store.

Many cities are making access to healthy food part of their general plans.  For example, Washington D.C.’s sustainability plan sets a goal of having 75% of residents within a 5 minute walk of healthy food.

But how many people can walk to a grocery store in 5 minutes?

Today, we’re announcing a new ranking of the best and worst U.S. cities for access to food based on our database of local places and our Travel Time API and ChoiceMaps technology.

The Best Cities for Food Access

Our ranking measures access to healthy food by calculating the percent of people in a city who can walk to a grocery store in 5 minutes.  The ranking below includes U.S. cities with more than 500,000 residents.

The best cities for access to healthy food are:

Rank City People with Food Access (5 min walk)
1 New York 72%
2 San Francisco 59%
3 Philadelphia 57%
4 Boston 45%
5 Washington D.C. 41%
The best and worst cities for food access.

The best and worst large cities for food access.
Areas in green indicate where you can walk to a grocery store in 5 mins.

The Worst Cities for Food Access

The following cities have the lowest percentage of people who can walk to a grocery store within 5 minutes:

Rank City People with Food Access (5 min walk)
1 Indianapolis 5%
2 Oklahoma City 5%
3 Charlotte 6%
4 Tucscon 6%
5 Albuquerque 7%

Note that rentals and real estate in a city such as Tuscon is much less expensive than in a food-friendly city such as Philadelphia.

Don’t See Your City? Urban planners and researchers, please contact us to unlock your city.


To calculate the percent of residents in a city with access to healthy food we use a variety of data sources and technologies.  Our population data and city boundaries come from the U.S. Census. Our list of grocery stores comes from a mix of Google, Localeze, and places added via the Walk Score website. We calculated millions of walking routes for this ranking with our Travel Time API.

Our goal is to only include grocery stores that sell produce.  We filter out convenience stores with a combination of algorithmic filters and crowdsourcing.  That said, it’s harder than it sounds to get a clean list of grocery stores.  If you see a convenience store miscategorized as a grocery store, please click the “Edit place” link and help us improve our data quality.

Our rankings are proximity based and do not include the cost of food.  Some studies have shown that shoppers select supermarkets based on price as well as proximity2.  For example, people with lower incomes may travel farther to shop at a cheaper grocery store.

Unlike other food desert maps, our maps are dynamic and updated in real-time as our database of underlying grocery stores changes.

Walk Score Data for Your City, County or State 

Walk Score data is being used by a growing number of cities and planning districts.  “The City of San Jose is using Walk Score data to start tracking performance metrics for our general plan such as how many people can walk to fresh food and parks,” said Joseph Horwedel, Deputy City Manager of San Jose.

Walk Score offers data in spreadsheet or shapefile format for every address in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.  We have also aggregated our data for every city and ZIP code in the U.S.

Planners, researchers, and analysts are using Walk Score in a variety of ways:

Contact us to learn more about using Walk Score data in your research and analysis and watch this video to learn more about Walk Score ChoiceMaps:

Walk Score and Health Outcomes

Healthy streets, healthy people.

Walking is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to stay healthy.  A study by the University of Utah showed that the average person in a walkable neighborhood weighs 6-10 pounds less than someone in an unwalkable neighborhood1.

We’re seeing a growing body of research using Walk Score data to study the relationship between where people live and health outcomes.

For example, public health departments are using Walk Score data to study the link between sprawl and diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular issues.  One of my favorite research studies involves giving GPS devices to participants to calculate a “personal Walk Score” based on the places a person goes throughout the day.  Cities are using Walk Score ChoiceMaps to measure how many residents can walk to fresh food or parks.

Walk Score and Esri My Place History

Today we’re excited to announce that Walk Score has teamed up with Esri, the leading provider of geospatial analysis tools, to provide healthcare professionals with access to Walk Score data for their patents.

The Esri My Place History tool helps physicians gather data on where patients have lived.  Walk Score data is now available in this tool along with information about nearby toxins and heart attack rates.

Walk Score data is now available in Esri My Place History

Walk Score data in Esri’s My Place History

Bill Davenhall, Head of Health and Human Services at Esri, noted “Walk Score is a new piece of clinical information for health care.  If physicians have  relevant information at the time they see a patient that could support their recommendations, such as ‘get more exercise’, the value of the encounter could be greatly enhanced and  the likelihood of patient compliance much higher.”

This week Matt Lerner and Jason Gruber from Walk Score are at Health Datapalooza in Washington D.C. talking about how Walk Score data can be used by health researchers and healthcare providers.

Walk Score data includes:

  • Walk Score for every location in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand
  • Transit Score based on data from hundreds of public transit agencies
  • Bike Score for 100+ cities in the U.S. and Canada
  • ChoiceMaps that measure access and choice in every city

Learn more about Walk Score data and about Walk Score and health research.

Photo by Urban Advantage.

National Walking Day and Walk to Work Day

American Heart Association hosts National Walking Day April 3, 2013 to get people moving.

American Heart Association’s National Walking Day April 3, 2013 and National Walk to Work Day April 5, 2013 aim to get people moving.

Walk. Stroll. Gallup. The US Department of Health and Human Services has designated the first Friday of April as National Walk to Work Day. American Heart Association and many other national organizations embrace the cause as well, and the American Heart Association created National Walking Day (first Wednesday each April). We at Walk Score whole-heartedly support these efforts. No surprise. Walking is one of the easiest ways to boost your health and prevent physical and mental illness. It’s free and with spring in the air and winter waning, now is the time to walk more. Suggestions for how to easily participate in National Walking Day or National Walk to Work Day:

  1. Walk to and/or from work.
  2. Walk to a public transit stop that’s a little further than your normal stop.
  3. Walk during lunch. Take a picnic and eat at a park. Vitamin D will drown any sorrows and new scenery will refresh your mind.
  4. Hold a walking meeting instead of conference room gatherings.
  5. Walk with a friend after work.
  6. Stand more often while working. Make any phone calls while standing.

Kudos to the US Department of Health and Human Services for creating such a simple and good day in which everyone of any age and ability can participate. The American Heart Association recommends you “ditch your desk” in April to take a 30-minute walk around your office or office neighborhood. Watch that hot NBA game from your mobile device instead!

See Walk Score’s top 10 health benefits of walking. Walk Score gives more reasons to embrace walkability and drive less and live more.

Photo: American Heart Association

Top 10 Health Benefits of Walking

Sitting is the smoking of our generation, according to a Harvard Business Review article. Walking is the answer. A mountain of research brings this fact to light. Walking is a free, easy, low-impact way to combat adverse health effects of prolonged sitting, and so many other health ills. You don’t have to train for a marathon to combat unhealthy impacts of sitting. Just walk. It’s good for the body and mind.

“Walking is the closest thing to a magic bullet for health,” says Dr. Graham Colditz of Washington University School of Medicine. Put another way by Mayo Clinic obesity expert Dr. James Levine, “You don’t have to join a gym… You just have stop streaming Thursday Night Football, get off the sofa and go for a walk.”

1. Lose Weight by Living in a Walkable Neighborhood
Want a quick and easy way to lose weight? Find a walkable place to live. The average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs 6-10 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood. Neighborhoods with poor walkability are barriers to physical activity, while research shows people walk more if living in a walkable neighborhood.

Walkability impacts public health by “…affecting the relative convenience and viability of pedestrian travel and biking for both recreational and utilitarian (trip) purposes, and thus they influence the levels of physical activity,” reads a study from Georgia Institute of Technology.

Offset obesity by walking: A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that people genetically prone to obesity can offset that tendency by walking. A brisk one-hour daily walk reduced the influence of obesity by half.

2. Walk to Combat Cancer
Women who walked 1 to 3 hours per week had risk of death from breast and uterine cancer reduced by 19%. When they walked 3 to 5 hours per week, their risks of the same cancers were reduced by 54%, according to a study by Harvard University.

Men who walk briskly for at least 3 hours a week after being diagnosed with prostate cancer were 57% less likely to see the disease progress.

3. Walk to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center writes, “An analysis of numerous studies on walking and heart disease concluded that the risk for developing heart disease decreases as the amount of walking increases.” Retired men who walk more than 1.5 miles per day had a significantly lower risk for heart disease (compared to men who walk less), according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. Walking at a moderate pace (3 to 4 miles per hour) for up to 3 hours each week (equates to 30 minutes a day) can cut women’s heart disease risk by 40%, according to a Harvard study.

4. Walk to Reduce Blood Pressure
A Korean Institute of Sport Science study proved a decrease in blood pressure in those who followed a walking exercise similar to the recommended 30 minutes per day, five times a week given by the American College of Sports Medicine.

5. Walk to Reduce Diabetes Risk
A New England Journal of Medicine study tied walking with reduced risk of diabetes. The study of more than 3,000 overweight adults found that walking 2.5 hours per week (along with a healthy diet) reduced the risk by 58% of getting diabetes. For overweight adults 60 years and older, the reduced risk was 71%.

6. Walk to Keep Arteries Unclogged
A Journal of the American College of Cardiology study found that exercise before a meal may help stem the effects of high-fat foods on blood vessel function. Walking is good for the heart and its arteries and vessels in many ways, including stemming build-up and clogging of arterial walls. Unclogged vessels and arteries keep blood circulating throughout the body, to organs and limbs.

7. Boost Mental Health by Walking
Many studies prove that exercise can improve mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Depression, a disease that afflicts 9% of the American adult population according to the Centers for Disease Control, is reduced by walking, an activity that replenishes endorphins that influence the feeling of well-being. Physical activity also boosts self-esteem and cognitive function, according to research in the National Institutes of Health.

Want more joy? Cities with good public transit and access to amenities promote happiness.

8. Walking Combats Arthritis and Strengthens Joints
Knee arthritis sufferers were able to increase the distance walked by 18% and gained nearly 40% boost in joint function after finishing an 8-week walking study. They also experienced significantly less pain and needed less medication after walking, based on research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

9. Enjoy a Healthy Pregnancy
Pregnancy doesn’t have to mean your health decreases. Walking just half an hour every day helps pregnant women prevent back pain, swelling, constipation and other pregnancy-related irritations and health conditions, according to research by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

10. Walk for a Healthy Brain
Walking regularly reduces brain atrophy and mental decline, resulting in a 50% reduction in risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia where thinking, memory and behavior deteriorate over time. This according to Rush University Medical Center research.

Seniors, take note: Exercise, including walking, in your 70s may stop brain shrinkage, a sign of aging linked to dementia, according to Edinburgh University research.

Tools that make it easy to live a healthy life:

  1. Move to a more walkable neighborhood.
  2. Discover places and nearby amenities within walking distance.
  3. Find a place to live where you can walk, bike or take public transit to commute or get around.
  4. Advocate for better walkability in your neighborhood.

Live in a walkable neighborhood to boost your health and prevent disease. Walkability matters. We have partnered with many researchers to explore the value of walkability. Find a place to live in a walkable neighborhood on Walk Score.

Join Kids Walk to School Movement

Parents walk children to schoolHave you done it yet? Ever? Walking your kids to school has a myriad of benefits for families, their health, the environment and local communities. Kids learn from their parents the value of a feet-first mindset. Who knows? When your kids grow up and commute to work someday, perhaps they’ll recall school morning and/or afternoon walks and opt out of being a daily single-car driver. With fast, nationwide broadband internet spreading across the country these days, maybe they’ll just be walking to a coffee shop to work remotely!

October is International Walk to School Month. Oct. 3, 2012 is Walk to School Day with some neighborhoods creating a “walking school bus” to pick up kids en route to school. Join thousands of parents and kids who take a foot-friendly commute to school this fall. One day can make an impact.

Seattle-area mom, Anne, shares why her family values walking to school and shifting their suburban lifestyle to live more locally and drive less:

“As parents, we all want the very best for our kids. Best education. Best neighborhood. Best community. As moms, we spend a considerable amount of time in the car, running kids to school, to soccer and a host of other activities. Not only does driving around get expensive, but it can also take away precious family time and feel like you are living in the car.

“After spending three years commuting 30 minutes each way to school and activities, our family made a commitment to localize – schools, activities and daily routine – in an effort to drive less. Kids grow quickly and we want to spend quality time connecting face to face with our kids and not looking at them in the rear view mirror.”

Dad finds quality time on walks to school

Ed, a Seattle dad, has walked to school for years: “The daily walk to and from school with my daughter is one of the greatest treasures of being a parent. For 10 or 15 minutes each way, we’re completely free from the day’s distractions of work, homework, chores, music, TV, web–whatever. It’s just the two of us and whatever is on our minds. Quality time of the highest degree.”

Join the movement to get kids walking or biking to school. Why? Safe Routes to School stats show a 20th-century US trend away from kids walking to school.

  • In 1969, 48 % of kids 5 to 14 years of age walked or biked to school
  • In 2009, 13 % of kids 5 to 14 years of age walked or biked to school

Let’s reverse that trend in the 21st century.

Walkable Schools on

In 1969, 42% of children walked or biked to school.

In 2001, 16% of children walked or biked to school1.

During a similar time period childhood obesity increased from 6.5% to 17%2.

These stats are striking: about 2.5 times fewer children walk to school and about 2.5 times more children are obese.

Walk Scores for Schools

Wouldn’t you want your child’s school to be a walkers’ paradise? We’re excited to announce that is now showing Walk Scores for schools!

School Data on Walk Score

We’re also showing’s school data on all Walk Scores in the United States:

We’ll be doing more with walkable schools in the future—and we’re excited about this first step!

Green Homes Flunk Walk Score Test

Here’s a surprising fact about “green” buildings: transportation to a building accounts for twice as much energy as operating the building1.

USA Today reports that only one of the six green-home award winners picked by the U.S. Green Building Council has a Walk Score higher than 50.

Can a home or office really be green if the only way to get there is by car?

Kudos to Kaid Benfield at NRDC for saying it best here:

One result is that the added environmental benefit of the residences’ laudable green features will be offset by the environmental damage caused by the sites’ automobile dependence, poor environment for walking, and relative distance from jobs, shops and services.  Another result is that the public, the building industry, and policy makers will continue to be misled about how best to achieve true environmental performance in our built environment.

Fascinating Transportation Stats: Bicycle and Pedestrian Benchmarking Report

Did you know men are 3X as likely to bike to work as women?

Did you know weather matters less than you think?  Montana and Alaska have some of the coldest temperatures and highest levels of cycling.

What else don’t you know?! The Benchmarking Report from the Alliance for Biking and Walking is the most comprehensive report we’ve seen on bicycling and walking in the U.S.

I love all of the city rankings and state-by-state comparisons. Go Portland!  The #1 city for biking to work.

Must Read: GOOD Magazine Transportation Issue

I’m reading the GOOD Magazine Transportation issue and there’s so much important stuff in it I just can’t tweet all of it.  This issue is a great primer in transportation innovation—go forth and read!

In no particular order…

Great Joseph Sussman Interview: He’s an MIT prof and advisor to DoT.  Love this quote, “Charge cars on a per mile basis, depending on what road you were traveling, at what time of day, in what kind of car.”  He also explains why we’re not investing enough in high-speed rail.

Zach Dundas pines after the coolest bike in the world:

Innovative Buses in Bogotá:

And of course the Walk Score article: