Creating Walkable Communities for Better Public Health

On June 16-17, the Georgia Walks Summit brought over one hundred public health, traffic engineers, urban planners, elected officials, and pedestrian advocates to Macon. This was the first statewide gathering dedicated to making Georgia’s streets and communities great places to walk. As an in-kind sponsor, MBPZ/MATS staff helped the conference organizers, PEDS and GDOT, organize this successful summit with speakers from around the state and internationally recognized speakers Mark Fenton and Gil Penalosa of 8 80 Cities.
Prior to 1990 no state had an obesity rate over 20%. In 2010 no state had an obesity rate under 20%. Macon-Bibb County's obesity rate is 29%.

Prior to 1990 no state had an obesity rate over 20%. In 2010 no state had an obesity rate under 20%. Macon-Bibb County’s obesity rate is 29%.

Key note speaker Mark Fenton argued that over the last few decades we have created built communities that discourages walking and exercise and are contributing to a public health crisis in our nation related to obesity and lack of physical activity. The CDC reports that in 1990 no state in the United States had an obesity rate over 20%. By 2010, no state had an obesity rate less than 20%. In Macon-Bibb County 29% of adults are obese. Obesity increases the risk for health conditions such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, hypertension, dyslipidemia, stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, and poor health status. As if that weren’t bad enough, health care costs of obesity are crushing our health care system and are responsible for nearly 21% of total health care spending in the U.S.Step It Up! Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities The health concern is so significant the Surgeon General has issued a Call to Action to increase walking across the United States by improving access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll by creating a culture and a built environment that supports these activities for people of all ages and abilities. According to the Surgeon General, being physically active has many benefits. It is one of the most important things Americans can do to improve their health. Regular physical activity can reduce the burden of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, and can prevent early death. Physical activity can also help people with chronic diseases manage their conditions. Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death in the United States. Almost 50% of U.S. adults, or 117 million people, are living with a chronic disease, and among these, about 60 million are living with two or more chronic diseases. Physical activity has other health benefits, too. It can help manage weight and prevent falls. Physical activity can even reduce depression and may improve cognitive abilities. The good news is that by helping adults get half-an-hour of physical activity per day (and children one hour per day) our communities can help fight this public health crisis. Fenton suggested that we can build our communities and transportation networks to encourage more physical activity by:
  • thoughtfully mixing land uses,
  • building connected pedestrian and bicycle networks,
  • incorporating site design that emphasizes pedestrians and bicycle access, and,
  • ensuring that the all of our streets, sidewalks and multi-use paths are safe and fully accessible.
In addition to addressing our public health crisis, creating walkable communities is a proven strategy for increasing quality of life, property values, and community wealth. MATS is in the process of updating the long range transportation plan (LRTP) and this is an excellent opportunity for the community members to learn about the transportation planning process and to share ideas, suggestions, and concerns about how we can create a transportation network that is safe for all users whether they walk, use a wheel chair, ride a bike, take public transit, or drive a car. Please share your ideas, concerns, or suggestions for improving transportation in the Macon region via email to Senior Planner, Gregory L. Brown (gbrown@mbpz.org) or mail 682 Cherry Street, Suite 1000, Macon, GA 31201.