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 America's Unhealthy Environment & Buildings Making Our Children Sick 
by Organic Consumers Association - 4/10/2006

From Environment News Service

Poor Design of Built Environment Linked to Sick Kids

WASHINGTON, DC, April 10, 2006 (ENS) - National Public Health Week focused this year on the fact that the modern built environment is harming the health of American children. The week, which ended on Sunday, focused on building better environments that might produce healthier children. Across the country, children are facing serious medical problems as a result of living in unhealthy built environments because poorly designed neighborhoods and buildings, roads, and sidewalks do not foster health, according to the American Public Health Association (APHA). "Healthy communities for kids are on the verge of being engineered out of existence," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "We created these harmful built environments and we're equally empowered to change them."

Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway looking north. Freeways split former neighborhoods and make walking for pleasure difficult. (Photo courtesy Chicago Imagebase)

U.S. Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Congresswoman Hilda Solis of California, both Democrats, introduced a bill in Congress to address the built environment¹s health effects, such as diabetes, obesity and asthma, on the nation¹s children. Among other measures, the legislation would provide additional support for research on the relationship between the built environment and health, as recommended by two Institute of Medicine reports. ³Improvements to the built environment can have significant health benefits, as measured by greater physical activity, healthier diets, fewer injuries, a reduction in toxic emissions, and improved air, water and soil quality,² said Obama. There are still few researchers documenting the damage to health of bad neighborhood design, but the APHA says lack of sidewalks, safe play spaces, and access to fresh foods contributes to increases in childhood obesity. More than nine million children are now overweight and only about half of children age 12 and older engage in regular physical activity. The lack of safe places to walk, bike and play leads to preventable injuries in children. Pedestrian injury is the second-leading cause of injury-related death in kids. Poor indoor and outdoor air quality leads to asthma, now the most common chronic childhood disease. Many children, especially those living in rural or low-income communities, do not have a nearby doctor or pharmacy to provide them with the care they need. At home, at school and outdoors, children are exposed to toxics that can cause serious diseases. Some 24 million homes in the United States have lead-based paint hazards, which can have an adverse effect on children's intelligence, learning abilities, behavioral disorders, and school failure.

Too little exercise and too much food means obesity for more American children than ever before. (Photo credit unknown) ³The important connection between the design of our communities and the health of our constituents is often overlooked in our national health care debate over cost and quality," said Congresswoman Solis. "It is often the foods we eat, the places our children play, and the sidewalks on which we travel that impact our health and ability to engage in healthy activities." The Atlanta based federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees. In a new report, the CDC says, "While pediatricians are accustomed to thinking about health hazards from toxic exposures, much less attention has been given to the potential for adverse effects from 'built environments' such as poor quality housing and haphazard land use, transportation, and community planning," write authors Dr. Richard Joseph Jackson, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, and Dr. Susan Kay Cummins, the Center's senior health policy advisor. In fact, children spend little time in natural environments compared to the time they spend indoors and in neighborhoods, they write. "Today¹s cities sprawl into forest and farmland with ever widening roadways but no sidewalks or bicycle routes. With their vast asphalt parking areas and treeless streets, these cities coddle the automobile while denying children the opportunity to experience the wonder and joy of the natural world. What child can be allowed independent exploration in cities experienced as dangerous and lacking parks and sidewalks?" write Jackson and Cummins.

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Provided by Organic Consumers Association on 4/10/2006
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