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Monday, 30 April 2012

Healthy Build Environment Part 1 - Physical fitness, active transportation and obesity

What could be nicer, a single family home in a rural area on an acre lot.  Sounds idyllic for many and might contribute to peace of mind, but what does it do to your health?   Yes, at the end of the day you can have a nice walk in a rural like setting.  You may get some activity associated with maintaining the property.  But, you will need to travel to get food, go to work or school, get any of a range of services and your activity levels actually decrease. On the other hand, people in New York are now getting fitter whilst living in dense urban settings.

Is it an inconsistency? not really.  Our love affair with the car has contributed to the expansion of the waist.  Not the only factor, but one that has been reversed through forward thinking urban planning.  Walkable communities, not just communities with walking paths, but where groceries and service areas are readily accessible and the use of single passenger vehicles has multiple barriers.  Public transportation brings people close to services, there is still a need to walk the final steps in either end of the trip.  It beats the walk from the front door to the car, and the parking garage to the elevator. 

Bicycle friendly communities with dedicated lanes, pools of bikes available for core urban use, and just the safety in numbers have added to the repopularization of the bike. 

Urban planning that builds in walking friendly settings can make a huge difference to community wellbeing.  
Barriers to vehicles such as London’s tolls for downtown traffic, traffic calming structures, and readily accessible public transport can reduce the single vehicle dependence.  Market pricing of gasoline has done wonders for encouraging behaviour change more than any planning policy. 

Is it sufficient to overcome our bulging waistlines, time will tell – but there are encouraging signs.  What is needed is to ensure that urban planning thinks about health, not just sustainable economic growth

Read more on the state of science on linking the built environment to health at Ontario coaltion on HBE , the majority of well documented and a few intervention studies relate to walkability and air pollution – however limiting the discussion of healthy built environment to only proven issues, has the potential to preclude  many aspects of how the environment affects other aspects of our wellbeing. Simcoe Muskoka literature review; APHEO literature review on linking with chronic diseases; BC HBE indicators; .   

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