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Civic Impact

Doctor-authored report says building healthy communities is a city planning issue

Earlier this month, the four medical officers of health for the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA) congregated at Union Station to mark the official launch of their collaborative report.

The report, Improving Health Care by Design--co-writtern by Dr. David Mowat (Peel), Dr. David McKeown (Toronto), Dr. Charles Gardner (Simcoe Muskoka) and Dr. Ninh Tran (Hamilton)--examines connections between urban lifestyles and health.

The results: if we want healthy people, we need to build healthy communities. This means, the doctors suggest, that our communities need to made more conducive to walking, cycling, and public transit. The report concludes with calls for "major changes" in community design across the GTHA.

These are not perhaps particularly novel observations, few would argue that more opportunities for physical activity leads to better overall health. But the report, written as it was by doctors, adds leverage to these ideas by attempting to quantify more specifically, the health effects of good community planning.

The authors estimate, for example, that traffic-related air pollution is responsible for more than 850 premature deaths in the GTHA annually, and that physical inactivity costs the region as much $4 billion a year.

Better community design, the authors argue, could sufficiently influence individual behavior to the effect of preventing hundreds of premature deaths and saving billions in health costs.

"While improvements are occurring in community design, considering the rate of population growth, chronic disease trends and the pace of change in land use and transportation planning, it is clear that more needs to be done," said Dr. David Mowat at the report's launch. "We have built our communities around the automobile and this approach poses a serious risk to public health."

Photo: Robert Taylor
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