Land Use and Transportation Solutions to Oregon's Obesity Crisis

Thu, 05/17/2012 (All day)

The largely preventable health effects of obesity cost Oregon $1.6 billion every year, and counting. The implications for land use and transportation are clear: when your community’s form doesn’t allow for walking or biking, it’s hard to get enough exercise to stay healthy.

The number is from a new Oregon Health Authority report, which makes Oregon's obesity crisis very apparent. Sixty percent of Oregon adults, and just over a quarter of eighth-graders, are either overweight or obese, notes the report. 1,400 Oregonians die annually because of the effects of obesity, making it the state’s second biggest preventable cause of death after tobacco.

Oregon communities need to keep making investments to encourage better transportation choices for getting to school, work, shopping, and parks. A remarkably low percentage of Oregonians meet daily physical activity recommendations, and most adults work at jobs that require them to sit for all or most of the day. Numerous studies have shown that these employees can improve their health if they can commute to work in a more active way, such as walking, biking, or taking transit. Yet fewer than 15% of Oregonian adults currently walk or bike all or part of the way to work for more than half the week, the OHA report says.

The situation is being passed on to Oregon's children. Less than half of elementary school students in Oregon walk or bike to school regularly, according to the report. While there are many reasons for this, one important factor is that parents don’t feel their communities are safe enough for their kids get to school by foot or bike. But kids who can’t or don’t walk or bike to school are significantly less healthy than those that do. Communities need to make sure every Oregon child has a safe route to school that doesn’t require riding in a car.

The evidence is clear and growing: the design of communities plays a huge role in the health of their residents, at every age. 1000 Friends works hard to advocate for healthier, more walkable communities throughout Oregon. Obesity is a statewide crisis, and we all pay the costs. Better land use and transportation planning has a central role in meeting this challenge.

Dr. Richard Jackson is a nationally known expert on the relationship between community design and public health.  1000 Friends is thrilled to be co-hosting a series of presentations with him around Oregon this June.  Learn more about those events here. 

To learn more and read the Oregon Health Authority report, click here.