Fight Fat with Urban Design

People in urban centres walk more and are generally more active than those who live in the suburbs, which is great for urbanites but not so great for the health of suburban dwellers. Years of poor urban planning in the suburbs have had a negative effect on the health of those who live there, which is most visible in increased obesity rates. In the suburbs of Toronto, Peel region is leading in new urban planning that encourages people to live a healthier life.

Instead of telling people what they shouldn’t do they are encouraging people to live healthy through passive, barely noticeable ways.

The health-minded policies, many of them pushed through despite strong opposition, are starting to pay off, said Dr. Karen Lee, a Canadian who is the director of Built Environment and Active Design in the New York Department of Health and Hygiene.

She cited a 289 per cent increase in commuter cycling, a 37 percent drop in traffic fatalities, a 1.5 per cent decline in car traffic and a 5 per cent drop in car registration over the past decade. There’s even been a small reduction in the worrying statistics on childhood obesity.

Many of the ideas are environmentally friendly and accessible but not necessarily expensive, said Lee. Posting signs near elevators that read “Burn calories, not electricity” can boost stair usage by 50 per cent. Drinking safe tap water is better for the environment than expensive bottled water.

“Neighbourhoods that are well designed for pedestrians are usually well designed for people with disabilities,” she said.

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