Who cares, really cares, about healthcare?

Are you trying to lose a little weight? Maybe you know someone suffering from depression or asthma. These health challenges are bigger than you and your loved one. In fact, they are reaching epidemic proportions in the US. and after hearing from a couple of compelling speakers (Dr. Richard Jackson and Chris Leinberger) on the topic, they are challenges that are hard for people to address by themselves and here’s why. You definitely have some responsibility, but as Dr. Jackson points out, “we have rigged the environment against you.”

Dr. Richard Jackson challenges basic assumptions about healthcare when he talks about the big social health problems, “no epidemic in human history has been solved by medical care alone; systemic improvements have solved them.” The systems we have built to dispose of trash or waste water, provide clean water or immunizations have solved all of the epidemics faced in society.

If we look at the biggest health risks facing Americans today, and Dr. Jackson has, we are facing several health epidemics. Population obesity has doubled in one generation, making conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease much more likely.

Depression and use of antidepressants has skyrocketed 400% in the last two decades resulting in decreased work productivity and family stability.

Near roadway pollution, a major cause of asthma in children, is causing or exacerbating lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and neurological disorders.

Traffic crashes should also be considered an epidemic for young adults as the leading cause of dead for people age 15-24 and 2nd most likely cause of death for people 25-34.

So the solution for the first two is to sit less and walk or be more active. You can do this right?

Well for decades now we’ve built places to live and work that make an “active” lifestyle harder, more dangerous, and certainly less attractive. That’s why both speakers argue that some infrastructure changes are needed that address all four epidemics. Basically, Austin needs to rediscover what we once knew about building communities and making our neighborhoods or work places more walkable, bikeable, and transit friendly. “More people have jobs where they sit all day,” says Christopher Leinberger during a recent trip to Austin, “then they sit longer and longer in the car to get home. Building better options for people to live closer to work, that allow a more active lifestyle also appeals to market trends and it’s healthier.”

Regular transit users weigh 6-9 pounds less than their driving counterparts. Recent studies have found lower levels of obesity in walkable, mixed use areas. The average person will lose 13 pounds in their first year of bicycling to work.

Children that walk or bike to school show increased concentration, improved moods, improved memory, and enhanced creativity.

A new study shows people who live in less walkable neighborhoods are significantly more likely to develop diabetes.

Exercise in healthy places is an effective treatment for depression.

So, as Austin changes our infrastructure to become safer and better designed for walking, bicycling, and transit, then perhaps you have a fair chance to take the easy steps to better health. You can also take a little more pride in those “steps” knowing your neighbors also benefit. Walkable places not only improve your health, but also produce five times less CO2 emissions, use four times less energy, and cost three times less per capita for all public services (water, emergency services, schools, etc).

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