“Newfoundland has some of the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascualar disease in the country” according to Dr. Catherine Donovan, who is both an Associate Professor at Memorial University and the Associate Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Health Region in Newfoundland. At a public presentation delivered at the Harris Centre in Memorial University on October 28th, Dr. Donovan explained that obesity and diabetes, which are worrisome conditions in themselves, are strongly linked to cardiovascular disease, and that physical inactivity and unhealthy eating are risk factors for all three.
Dr. Donovan was joined at the Harris Centre by Dr. Karen Lee, a healthy built environment expert who has worked with the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for the last seven years. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that obesity costs the United States about $147 billion per year in medical costs,” Dr. Lee explained. “We have inadvertently created an obesogenic environment that discourages physical activity and healthy eating. We know from how quickly these epidemics of obesity and diabetes have developed in Canada and the United States that they are not caused by our genes! So, we have to reverse that by changing the environments in which people live, work and play.”
Dr. Lee, who is a consultant with the Healthy Canada by Design CLASP Initiative funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, described the many ways in which Departments in New York City have collaborated to transform their City: “We have used paint to create bike lanes and designated bus lanes. We have used paint, plant potters and street furniture to create public plazas which are destinations for people to walk to. We have developed guidelines and by-laws to create buildings, streets and neighbourhoods that foster physical activity, active transportation, and healthy eating.”
Dr. Lee identified the many benefits associated with these, and other, changes made in New York City: “Transit use is up, pedestrian volumes are up, retail sales around the plazas are up, traffic fatalities are down, and we are reversing the trend of childhood obesity in New York City!”
While visiting St. John’s, Dr. Lee also presented to the Provincial Wellness Advisory Council, the Regional Wellness Coalitions, and senior municipal staff from the Eastern Avalon Region. She also had the opportunity to meet with members of the St. John’s Board of Trade and to do the CBC Radio Noon call-in show with Fay Matthews, a consultant working on the local Healthy Canada by Design project team.
“We have an epidemic in this Province that will soon consume all of our Province’s budget” Dr. Donovan offered. “In the public health sector, we believe that this is not the way to go; so we have to change the environments that shape people’s lives”.
Prepared by Kim Perrotta