Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Transportation Choices: It’s a Public Health Issue

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute, (EESI) held a Congressional briefing on May 24, 2010 that highlighted the important health choice Congress will need to consider as it debates a pending, multiyear reauthorization of Federal transportation spending. The briefing featured a presentation by Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH, professor and director of Global Environmental Health, University of Wisconsin, who spoke of the direct impact on public health that results from climate change; specifically the role that transportation policy plays in healthy/unhealthy air and lifestyles. While its well known that air pollution can cause respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, Patz told congressional staffers that poorly planned transportation policies have a morbidity and mortality rate significantly higher than the conventional associations with automobile and pedestrian accidents.

In addition to extensive health consequences resulting from air pollution, Patz argued that transportation decisions are significant factors contributing to the nation’s obesity epidemic due to community designs that foster inactivity and chronic disease. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer, are an inevitable result of a unhealthy lifestyle. Patz noted that nearly half of all car trips are less than two miles long, and a significant number could be reduced through investments and incentives in alternative transportation methods; especially investments such as mass transit, community design and other policies that reduce reliance on private automobiles and increase walking and other forms of physical activity. Whats the bottom line? While organizations like the American Public Health Association have persuasively argued that “climate change is a public health issue” Dr. Patz's presentation included a powerful image (see below) illustrating how simple policies can hinder or enhance a physically active lifestyle.

Dr. Jonathan Patz's complete presentation is available on the Environmental and Energy Study Institute website.

Amy Himmelstein
Policy and Program Intern
Partnership for Prevention


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