The broadening crisis of Louisiana’s broadening waistlines requires a series of actions, but one of the most basic is to look at our neighborhoods not as places to drive to and from, but places to walk or bike within.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a new guide to smart growth principles for towns and cities, and it’s filled with academic citations about the value of making better choices about how we build. Because, the studies reported, the way we build affects the way we live day to day.
“Policies that offer more transportation options can have an immediate effect on public health by reducing air pollution from driving while increasing physical activity,” the EPA report said. “Compact, mixed-use communities with streets that are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists give people the opportunity to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine by walking or biking to school, work, transit, stores, and restaurants, or for recreation.”
Sounds simple, but cul-de-sacs and one-entry subdivisions — combined with zoning to restrict the very existence of neighborhood groceries, or schools — actually force people to drive instead of walking or riding a bike.
“One study in the Atlanta region found that people who live in compact, more walkable neighborhoods drive 30 to 40 percent less than people who live in more dispersed areas, are more than twice as likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity, and weigh an average of 10 pounds less than people who live in more dispersed areas,” the EPA report said.
Researcher Tim Church and his colleagues at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center have preached this gospel, too: Even modest increases in physical activity yield significant health benefits.
The EPA report notes that — pun intended — the paths toward sidewalks and bike paths can vary in terms of the needs and politics of communities.
However, the report, and many others like it, build a body of evidence — pun intended — that people can be healthier and generally better off if they are active.
Basic suburban sprawl, the rule in Baton Rouge for decades, is outdated and unhealthy.
We hope policymakers at all levels will embrace an old-fashioned approach to healthier lifestyles by making neighborhoods friendlier to walking and biking.