We’ve talkedabout it before. Americans are plagued by an obesity epidemic and trying to find smart ways to improve health. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares the results of The Measures Project, an attempt to review all the recent science on community-based strategies to reduce obesity. The report is an important starting point for establishing land use as a kind of preventative medicine—a way to build healthier communities. This makes a lot more sense than treating people once they are already sick because it also improves quality of life and cuts costs.
Some of the findings are familiar to a study I wrote about before. But one of the key recommendations validates one of Sightline’s very favorite solutions of all time—the idea that mixing up the way communities use their land could be a very important way to improve health outcomes.
The report acknowledges that advocates of compact communities haven’t been able to really link up the science of health with the science of things like economics and land use and how they might work together to prevent illness and disease.
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But, the Measures Project goes a long way toward distilling what health professionals and other scientists have been sorting out for a while. Here is how the CDC evaluated the different community strategies:
Using these criteria, the report urges, among many other recommendations, that communities should zone for mixed use development. Many studies are showing links to better health for people who live in communities that don’t have hard lines between residential areas and commercial areas—places, basically, where you can walk from your home to groceries or work or other activities. Several studies cited in the report showed strong connections between health and increased walking and cycling (like this one for example). Another study confirms a point I made in another post about the connection between smart land use and better health.
What makes this new report important not so much what it recommends—compact communities to create the basis for better health—as much as who is saying it. The CDC takes its pronouncements very seriously. They don’t say much until enough scientific evidence accumulates to support making recommendations and suggesting measurements.
So we are getting closer to confirming what we intuitively know with what science shows us. This connection being made by the CDC—along with energy efficiency and climate change considerations, as well as basic quality of life—is a building block for the empirical foundations that support density and transit oriented development in communities in the region.