On May 1, 2006, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a Congressional briefing on the role of public transportation and better community design in improving the quality of life for the nation’s youngest and oldest generations. An increasing proportion of U.S. residents is comprised of the oldest and youngest Americans - with more than a quarter of the population younger than 18, and 12 percent, 65 years and older. Yet the ways in which our communities are designed pose obstacles to the young and old, often hampering their autonomy and diminishing their health. The high cost of gasoline is a huge threat to our most vulnerable populations - young, old and low-income. More than ever, people need mobility options. This briefing explored current trends in the health and well-being of children and seniors and how improved community design and expanded transportation choices could enhance health and quality of life. Speakers at this briefing included experts on livable communities, land-use and transportation planning.
Dr. Howard Frumkin, Director, National Center for Environmental Health, Center for Disease Control (CDC), co-author of Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning, and Building for Healthy Communities
(Please note that Dr. Frumkin's presentation does not necessarily represent the views of the CDC. Photos used in his presentation are for illustrative purposes only)
Richard Gilbert, Director of Research, Centre for Sustainable Transportation, Toronto, Canada, lead author of the report Child and Youth Friendly Land-Use and Transport Guidelines
Kathryn Lawler, Director, Aging Atlanta , Atlanta Regional Commission.
Policy makers, urban planners, and health professionals are evaluating the livability of American communities in terms of the availability of appropriate housing, access to mobility options, ability to “age in place,” and integration of exercise into one’s daily routine. They urge that transportation and land-use policies should reflect enhanced mobility options, including more accessible public transportation, walking, and bicycling. New programs such as Safe Routes To Schools as well as existing programs supporting transit in the new transportation law SAFETEA-LU will address some of these mobility issues, so the implementation and funding of these programs is critical.
Transportation and mobility options have a profound impact on the lifestyles of younger and older Americans. With gas prices projected to hit record highs this summer, the financial impact on vulnerable populations will be acute. Public transportation can be a critical source of mobility, provide an affordable transportation alternative and contribute to personal independence and quality of life for these vulnerable generations. Increased opportunities for walking, biking and use of transit will increase physical activity, helping to address the health concerns of youth and elderly.
- One-sixth of medical trips by people over 50 were via transit.
- An AARP survey found that 60 percent of seniors did not have transit within a 10-minute walk of their home.
- Almost 64 percent of seniors do not engage in regular physical activity; and 41 percent are overweight.
- According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 1969, 35 percent of students lived within a mile of school and 87 percent of those walked to school. Today, only 20 percent of students live within a mile of school and only about one-third of them walk.
- The CDC recently reported that between 1999 and 2004, there has been a significant increase in the prevalence of girls and boys between the ages 2 and 19 who are overweight (13.8 percent in 1999 to 16.0 percent in 2004 for girls, and 14 percent in 1999 to 18 percent in 2004 for boys).
- Obesity increases risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other major health problems. In 2000, the U.S. Surgeon General estimated that the economic cost of obesity was approximately $117 billion.
- Almost a third of the current U.S. health care expenditures is for older adults. By 2030, the number of older Americans is expected to double from 35 million to 70 million. Given this trend, the impact of lack of physical activity on medical care costs is likely to grow as a result of an aging population.