Sustainable Impact: Infrastructure for Healthy Living

Sustainable Impact: Infrastructure for Healthy Living

How Urban Infrastructure Influences Our Health and Environment.

City & regional planning can support fresh food access and active lifestyles that affect not only our health, but also the Earth’s ability to support our livelihoods.


According to the American Heart Association, nearly 70% of American adults are overweight or obese—this means 7 out of 10 of our constituents are at high risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. Heart disease, alone, is responsible for one in every four deaths, making it the leading cause of death in U.S. cities. Chronic diseases, as a whole, account for 86% of the nation’s healthcare costs (CDC, 2016) and with rising premium and drug costs, the tertiary response state of our healthcare system has become a social epidemic.

Parallel to these health statistics, atmospheric concentrations carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the highest in history. This unprecedented concentration of greenhouse gases has been identified as the dominant cause of climate change—and related sea level rise and food security issues. From inefficient urban land use, housing and building design, to carbon-intensive transport systems and an unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels, cities represent 67-76% of global energy use which is a primary culprit for atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions (WHO, 2014).

What do these two public health and environmental phenomena—rising costs of treating chronic diseases and climate change—have to do with one another?  

American cities are declining on the scale of livability based on metrics of safety, health care, educational resources, infrastructure and the environment (Economist, 2016).  The public health and environmental issues discussed factor into the livability of our jurisdictions, and there are policy alternatives that address both issues in our social and transportation planning. The solution is closely knit to how we create more liveable cities—with stronger linkages to fresh, healthy foods and non-motorized travel options to promote daily exercise through regular commutes and active mobility.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that eliminating poor diet, inactivity and smoking alone would prevent 80% of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The infrastructure of our cities lays the groundwork for citizens to make healthy choices for themselves and the environment.

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