“New Brunswick residents have some of the highest rates of obesity and chronic disease in the country” according to Dr. Cristin Muecke, a Medical Officer of Health with the New Brunswick Department of Health, in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health .
At a series of meetings convened in Fredericton this week, Dr. Muecke explained why public health has taken such as a keen interest in the built environment and community design. “In New Brunswick in 2009, 63% of adults and 28% of children were overweight or obese; this is 11% and 8% higher respectively than the Canadian average. This is important because weight is strongly associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes that can be highly debilitating and expensive to treat,” Dr. Muecke explained. “Experience with tobacco has taught us that the most efficient and effective way to change behaviours that affect human health is to provide the physical environments and social conditions that support the healthier choice.”
For the last year, the New Brunswick Department of Health has been an active partner in the Healthy Canada by Design CLASP Initiative funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Through the Healthy Canada by Design project, the Department has had a Planner working with public health staff on policies and programs that influence community design and the built environment in the province. They have: provided health-based comments for the Province’s Community Planning Act and Municipalities Act review process; been building relationships with the Planners in the City of Fredericton; and piloting a Rural Active Living Assessment tool in a few rural communities in the province.
This week, the Department convened a series of meetings with health stakeholders, local municipalities, provincial departments, the Chamber of Commerce, and the public, in an on-going effort to build relationships with those who have a common interest in making New Brunswick communities more conducive to active and healthy living.
Dr. Karen Lee, a Healthy Built Environment Consultant who works with the Healthy Canada by Design CLASP Initiative, shared the lessons learned from her work with New York City and other cities. “It does not have to be expensive” Dr. Lee explained, “With paint, plant potters, and pedestrian furniture, you can create public plazas that give people a place to walk to, to gather, and to socialize for relatively little money. Street blocks can be closed on designated days and times to create Play Streets. Major streets can be closed on weekend summer days to give people the experience of cycling and activities other than driving on their streets.”
Dr. Lee reminded people that the solution to public health problems have
always been tied to the built environment, “Planning codes, building codes,
drinking water systems, and street cleaning programs were some of the 19th
century weapons that brought infectious diseases under control. Today we
need to use planning policies and active design guidelines to create walkable communities, cycling infrastructure, bus rapid transit, and increased access to active recreation and healthy food, and active buildings to bring chronic diseases under control.”
Prepared by Kim Perrotta