October 15, 2009

T4 America touts health, transportation connection

Co-hosted by the American Public Health Association, PolicyLink and others, the Transportation for America Health Summit incorporated both a policy briefing and individual meetings with lawmakers in Washington, D.C. this week to highlight the connection between health and transportation.

 

Thursday morning’s briefing, titled “Get Moving! Mobilizing for a Healthier Transportation System,” showcased four high level experts on health and transportation including a youth wellness advocate and Transportation for America Director James Corless.

 

“America’s transportation system affects our health in profound ways, and we have a unique opportunity to forge a new direction that makes us healthier and saves us money over the long term,” Corless said.

 

Joining Corless as panelists were Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association; Dr. Richard Jackson, chair and professor of Environmental Health and Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles; Dr. Joe Thompson, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity; Shireen Malekafzali, senior associate at PolicyLink and editor of “The Transportation Prescription;” and 14-year-old Julia Lopez, a youth wellness advocate.

 

Briefing topics included the relationship between vehicle-generated pollution and respiratory complications; access to health care services, groceries and other essential destinations; active living and obesity prevention; the safety implications of our transportation policies; the health effects of greenhouse gas emissions; and overarching equity concerns among low-income and minority populations.

 

“We really are at a transportation crossroads,” said Dr. Benjamin. “Without transformational change in our priorities, we will perpetuate a transportation status quo that puts our health at risk, exacerbates health inequities and clouds our future. I am excited to be a part of this discussion and look forward to our continued participation in Transportation for America’s diverse coalition.”

 

A few key facts about the relationship between transportation policy and health:

 

  • In the United States traffic fatalities kill slightly more than 40,000 per year, costing the nation $230.6 billion, or 2.3 percent of the gross domestic product, since 2000;
  • People in more compact metropolitan areas suffer from significantly fewer chronic medical conditions than their counterparts in more sprawling regions. For example, people who live in neighborhoods with a mix of shops and businesses within easy walking distance have a 35 percent lower risk of obesity;
  • Each year air pollution triggers more than a million asthma attacks, more than 47,000 cases of chronic bronchitis in adults and 540,000 cases of acute bronchitis in children and kills 70,000 people;
  • Vulnerable populations, such as seniors and minorities, who cannot or choose not to drive have a higher risk of being killed as a pedestrian. African-Americans make up approximately 12 percent of that population, but they account for 20 percent of pedestrian deaths. Native Americans are 1.5 times more likely to die from traffic crashes than anyone else.

 

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