Every few years, the US Surgeon General issues a recommendation for the country, like encouraging Americans to use sunblock or breastfeed their kids. These are usually public health no-brainers, where the science has determined that Americans would absolutely be better off if they all followed this medical advice. Today the Surgeon General said that simply making the US more conducive for walking would improve the health of half of its citizens.
Walking is a free, preventative medicine for the ailments which plague Americans most, reads the Call to Action from Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy:
One out of every two U.S. adults is living with a chronic disease, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. These diseases contribute to disability, premature death, and health care costs. Increasing people’s physical activity levels will significantly reduce their risk of chronic diseases and related risk factors. Because physical activity has numerous other health benefits — such as supporting positive mental health and healthy ageing — it is one of the most important actions people can take to improve their overall health.
While encouraging people to walk is important, it’s really the responsibilities of the cities to design for walkability, the statement notes. Think about that: If cities would simply focus on providing pleasant, convenient, accessible places to walk, they would be saving lives. Not just by preventing traffic deaths (although that too) but by preventing illness.
The Call to Action includes five strategic goals to promote walking and walkable communities:
- Make walking a national priority
- Design communities that make it safe and easy to walk for people of all ages and abilities
- Promote programs and policies to support walking where people live, learn, work, and play
- Provide information to encourage walking and improve walkability
- Fill surveillance, research, and evaluation gaps related to walking and walkability
As far as what happens next it will be up to a coalition of walking groups that are part of the program to help oversee real change city by city. It might seem like a lot of talk, but consider this: Since the Surgeon General issued anti-smoking recommendations in 1964, smoking rates in the country have been cut in half. Only 18% of adult males smoke in the US today, compared to 43% in 1964.
Part of the reduction in smoking has been attributed to the Surgeon General’s warnings on tobacco products. Imagine signs like the labelling on cigarettes affixed to lampposts when you’re entering a new city. This city has been certified by the Surgeon General to be good for your body or The Surgeon General of the US has declared this city to be extremely dangerous to your health. Hey, we’ve all heard that sitting is as bad as smoking. Now it might actually be presented that way in society.
Follow the author at @awalkerinLA