A healthy city is a walking city. Western cities in Britain and the US are haemorrhaging cash because of a lack of physical activity. Our automated lives have led to an obesity crisis which is costing us billions of pounds a year in health care costs. For instance the estimated cost of physical inactivity and obesity in England is over £10 billion a year (that’s 10% of the entire NHS budget!).
A joint report by City University of New York and London Metropolitan University has stressed the importance of getting more people walking and cycling in order to combat obesity. The report ‘A Tale of Two ObesCities’, examines the snowballing problem of childhood obesity in both cities and what can be done to reverse the trend.
The study did more to highlight the enormous costs of obesity, in both health and economic terms, claiming that:
“The medical costs of treating obesity-related diseases in the United States were as high as $147 billion (£738 million) in 2008.”
The researchers also traced the links between poverty, inactivity and obesity such as communities with low walkability:
“Poor neighbourhoods have fewer parks and recreation centres; Fears of crime prevent low-income people from going out to be active; Heavy traffic and highways in poor neighbourhoods discourage walking or bicycling; Parks in poor neighbourhoods are less well maintained and may have fewer attractive amenities.”
They also cite recent studies that show that walkable neighbourhoods have significantly lower percentages of people who are overweight and countries with more walking and cycling have lower levels of obesity.
All of this evidence leads the report to the obvious recommendations that city government needs to:
“Promote walking and cycling, especially in neighbourhoods with high levels of childhood and adult obesity.”
And perhaps there is a small glimmer of hope that politicians are really starting to take this advice. Recently the UK government announced an injection of £800,000 for a scheme to get more kids walking to school. And the NYC government also launched their own Active Design Guidelines which is specifically targeted at designing healthier buildings, streets and spaces.