New Century Transportation |

New Century Transportation

What do childhood obesity and a town’s transportation system and community planning process have in common? Childhood obesity has become an epidemic in America. According to Active Community Environments (ACEs), since the 1970s, obesity rates have more than doubled for preschool children 2-5 years old and adolescents 12-19 years old, and it has more than tripled for children 6-11 years old. Risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, occur with increased frequency in overweight children and adolescents compared to those with a healthy weight.Type 2 diabetes, previously considered an adult disease, has increased dramatically in children and adolescents. Obesity and being overweight are closely linked to Type 2 diabetes.Much of this change in health conditions is associated with decisions made in the 20th century, when public health and planning/zoning professionals began coordinated planning and zoning of residential uses from industrial uses in response to poor sanitation. Ironically, those same standards have led to patterns of development where people find it difficult to walk or bike from their homes to offices and schools.Current baseline numbers for the Roaring Fork Valley for Aspen Middle School, Carbondale Elementary and Glenwood Elementary indicate that 10 percent of the children walk to school, 5 percent bike, 10 percent carpool, 40 percent use the bus and 35 percent are driven in a private car to and from school. Changing the environments in which children eat and play is now seen as an essential strategy in fighting the obesity epidemic. Children can get regular, sustained physical activity walking, bicycling, scootering or skateboarding between home and school. Research has shown that more children walked and biked to school where there were sidewalks and trail systems.Communities around the country have begun to write and adopt land-use plans and zoning codes that include statements to promote health in various plans (i.e. comprehensive/master plans, neighborhood plans, open space plans, bike and pedestrian plans, transportation plans, parks and recreation plans, and downtown plans). Other communities are conducting health impact assessments to identify the health impacts of community plans or specific projects.An example of a Safe Routes success story is in Marin County, Calif. This program included both infrastructure safety improvements and noninfrastructure education and encouragement programs which resulted in an increase of 64 percent over two years of children walking and biking to school.Cathy Tuttle is with the New Century Transportation Foundation. For additional information please e-mail

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