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Health and transport: Experts say we need to prioritise investments where there's more impact on health

30 September 2013

Lack of physical activity and exposure to pollution in cities are among the four major causes of death in Europe. Meeting minimum levels of physical activity on a daily basis would considerably reduce by 30% the risk of all premature deaths. There’s a huge potential for improving health through transport and cleaner air, experts said at Polis meeting. But we need a joined up message on active travel to get transport and health totally integrated.

Representatives from public authorities and Polis memebers, experts in health, city planning, environment and transport from Europe and the United States talked integration of the health dimension in local transportation policies at the Polis Working Group meeting on health and transport on September 19.

We need to act on air quality in cities now!

The London’s European Office opened the meeting with a presentation on the EU air quality legislation and the role of cities, including solutions in London. “Of the 10 million deaths p.a. in Europe”- said WHO expert, “1 million can be attributed to lack of physical activity." Physical inactivity comes second only to exposure to air pollution in urban areas. Hence the greatest urgency for cities to take actions now to change their policies and improve air quality.

Measuring the economic benefits of health is crucial for decision makers

“Health benefits of active travel are backed by a wealth of research, but we need to document the economic benefit of health if we want to make the argument stronger” agreed all experts at roundtable discussion.

“We need to bring together senior officials and work with local elected politicians and national agencies who educate politicians” said Sustrans. “Local authorities are fixated with short term wins, but to get transport and health totally integrated, we need to merge and switch budgets between these departments now!” stressed P. Mathieson from Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.

To help decision makers make better decisions for public health through investments in sustainable transport WHO's THE PEP has created a set of resources and tools publicly available, including HEAT, Clearing House and Toolbox to access and exchange policy, legal and scientific information, as well as good practices.

It is estimated via HEAT that reduced mortality as a results of changes in walking behaviour (5km per day) would prevent the number of deaths per year of 0.55 compared to 1,37 if they were not walking regularly, with substantial financial savings as a result of increased walking levels.

THE PEP will offer an arena for discussion across sectors at the forthcoming 4th High-level Meeting in Paris, April 14-16, 2014 during Transport Research Arena. Save the date!

Creating liveable and healthier communities for all

“In many people’s mind the link health and transport in not very strong” said Kieran Taylor from the London Borough of Hounslow, “a powerful way to get the public on board is spatial planning: Much liveable cities enable walking and cycling. “ In that respect, Brussels presented their plans for providing spaces for pedestrian, this presentation was followed by Gdinya where promotion of physical activity starts amongs the younger generations.

Urban sociologist Daniel Sauter launched a message" “We need standardisation of walking data, to be used by OECD, EU etc. so that it is measured at the local level, but inter-comparable and means we do not underestimate the proportion of walking that is done. There is a BYPAD, why not a WALKPAD?”

The European Cyclists’ Federation was proud to announce that on September 18 the Hungarian Cycling Charter was approved by the Minister locking in €400 million for cycling and targeting a 19-22% modal share. HEAT played a decisive role in the decision. ECF is now working with the International Sport and Culture association ISCA and with Eurosport to increase awareness of cycling benefits.

How are they tackling the problem in the U.S.?

The meeting ended with two presentations from experts in the U.S.A. who are cooperating with Polis in the Working Group. The Volpe National Transportation System Center has developed a framework for Metropolitan Planning Organisations (MPOs) to use to successfully consider health throughout the transportation planning process. The framework will assist MPOs to incorporate health considerations at each stage of the planning process thanks to a holistic approach to health. Nashville Area MPO presented their strategy for policy, funding, and data collection to make the case for health.

Downloads

The meeting agenda and all presentations can be downloaded here.

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