Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Transportation and Health

This is my sixth in a series of blogs discussing Communities in Motion 2040 and the relationship between transportation and other elements addressed in the plan. You can find the previous blogs below. Today I am discussing transportation and health.

Transportation and health connect in many different ways, from providing transportation options for low income individuals to access healthy foods to environmental health and its impact on human health. However, in this blog, I’m just focusing on one aspect of the transportation/health nexus: active transportation.

As we were waiting for a staff meeting to start at the COMPASS office the other day, the conversation turned to working out. One of our staff members mentioned that as a child, she thought “exercise” was pronounced “extra-cise” – basically something you did “extra” to be healthy. 

While this got a chuckle from our staff, it occurred to me that too often that is the case – we view being active as something “extra” we do as a part of our day to lose weight or be healthy. Unfortunately, many of us fail to do this “extra” thing, which has lead to high levels of obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and many other ailments.

Through CIM 2040 we are striving to create a transportation system that encourages active transportation – walking and biking to get from “Point A” to “Point B” – by providing the appropriate infrastructure to do so, such as safe, high quality sidewalks, bike lanes, and pathways. If we can design our communities to be places where exercise is simply how you get to work or to the store, instead of something “extra” to try fit into our busy days, we end up with healthier communities and citizens.

This concept reaches beyond a simple “feel good” message. The adult obesity rate in Idaho in 2011 was 27% -- more than one quarter of our adult population! That obesity epidemic comes with a cost, not only in lives and quality of life, but in dollars and cents. In 2010, the obesity epidemic cost Idahoans $320 million in health care, health insurance, lost productivity, and more. While that cost is staggering, it is nothing compared to future projections -- the cost of obesity in Idaho is projected to reach $1.5 billion by 2018.*

An active population can reduce those costs by helping curb obesity. While active transportation supported in CIM 2040 is not the “silver bullet” to cure the obesity epidemic, it is a tool available to transportation professionals to provide additional transportation options, improve our overall transportation system, and help Idahoans lead more active lives.

*Statistics courtesy of the Idaho Department of Transportation.

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.