Sunday, May 19, 2013

Policies, Health & Active Travel

Audrey de Nazelle, et al.’s article, “Improving health through policies that promote active travel,” discusses the necessity for holistic and multi-faceted policy solutions that address active transportation, environment, health, and urban planning. De Nazelle cites the “complexity of interactions among people, places, and the natural environment” (2011, 775) as the reason why synergistic solutions are needed, despite the difficulty of analysis.
Active travel policies and behaviors encapsulate transportation and built environment, as well as other behaviors, including “social interactions, crime, and dietary habits” (770). De Nazelle et al. cite Jane Jacobs’ notable idea of urban design that encourages “eyes on the street,” which can both lower rates and fear of crime (770). This design can also facilitate more interpersonal interactions and community cohesion, subsequently increasing social capital in a given community. However, tracing these benefits back to active travel policies remains difficult, given the nebulous nature of these concepts and efforts.

Another facet of both health and travel is environmental quality. De Nazelle et al. break this topic up into subcategories of traffic emissions and exposures to environmental hazards. These hazards are further explored, through separate categories of general population and in-travel exposures. General population exposure centers on neighborhood rates of congestion and pollution (771), which brings to mind the environmental justice movement. On the other hand, in-travel exposure focuses on different modes of transit. De Nazelle explores the idea of physical activity and health benefits gained from walking or cycling, contrasted with “increased inhalation [of pollutants] and possibly longer duration of travel” (772). Even so, the relationship between exposure to pollution and active travel requires more research and analysis.

Lastly, De Nazelle et al. looked at the health impacts of active travel policies, including the benefits of physical activity and active commuting, impacts of exposures, and traffic injuries. As Buhler & Pucher echo in “Walking and cycling in Western Europe and the United States,” cyclist fatality risks are “nearly 6 times greater for cyclist per km traveled in the US compared to Holland” (De Nazelle, 2011, 773). Other health impacts discussed include physical and mental health, diet, and reduced mobility.

By looking at these broad areas, this article provides a strong review that leads to more questions than answers. These complex relationships between transportation policies, health, and environment require holistic analysis and critical thinking. However, the public should not get lost in this process, as everyday people are the ones whose health remains impacted, or whose lives end up changed by a new policy or program. Finding a balance between models, analysis, and public involvement is a formidable challenge for De Nazelle et al. and anyone involved in the areas looked at in this review.

Thanks to John Dornoff for reviewing this post.

De Nazelle, A. et al. (2011). "Improving health through policies that promote active travel: a review of evidence to support integrated health impact assessment." Environmental International, 37. Retrieved from: 

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