The build-up of our urban environment has a drastic impact on the health and lifestyle of the Vancouver subway population, according to a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
The conclusion: car-dependent suburban neighborhoods lead to unhealthy lifestyles, while dense, passable, transit-friendly neighborhoods with plenty of parks encourage residents to be more physically active among many benefits.
It also means that Vancouver and parts of West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster have neighborhoods that are much healthier than the suburban areas of the region.
Researchers from the UBC Lab for Health and Design in partnership have teamed up with many government agencies, local health authorities and TransLink for their new study called "Where It Matters: The Health and Economic Impact of Where We Live".
The team also analyzed two sets of data with a combined statistical fund of more than 50,000 people.
So far, according to researchers, "very few studies have explored how investment in transport, neighborhood accessibility and access to green areas are associated with fewer chronic illnesses and lower healthcare costs. So far, existing evidence used to make important transport investment decisions rarely takes into account the potential health impacts and related costs of these factors. "
The study is led by Dr. Lawrence Frank, Professor of UBC and President of Bombardier in the field of sustainable transport and public health.
"There is an increasing consensus that the postal code of the neighborhood we live in is as important as our genetic code," researchers write.
"Our discoveries reveal that the type of neighborhood in which you live is important to your health. For this reason, it is important to recognize that the type of investments we make in our transport infrastructure and the resulting patterns of land use in our communities will ultimately affect the money we individually and collectively spend as a society for healthcare. "
The main findings of the study reveal a sharp contrast between the way of life and the health outcomes of both types of urban areas.
Those who live in a pedestrianized neighborhood compared to a car-dependent suburban area are:
- 45% more likely to travel for transportation and 17% more likely to meet the recommended weekly level of physical activity
- 39% less likely to have diabetes
- 42% less likely to be obese
- 23% less likely to have stressful days
- 47% more likely to have a strong sense of belonging to the community
In addition, those living in an area with six or more nearby parks ("close to" are defined as a distance of one kilometer), compared to an area without parks, are:
- 20% more likely to go for recreation or rest
- 33% more likely to meet the recommended weekly levels of physical activity
- 37% less likely to have diabetes and 39% less likely to have heart disease
- 43% less likely to be obese
- 19% less likely to have stressful days
- 23% more likely to have a strong sense of belonging to the community
In addition, residents living in an urban center have lower healthcare costs than those living in a suburban area. The findings are similar for those located within one kilometer of a number of parks.
Through their analysis of healthcare data, the researchers also determined the following:
- Differences in costs for diabetes:
- People living in a moderately passable area have 23% less diabetes-related health costs than people in the vehicle-dependent area
- People who live with six or more parks nearby have 75% less healthcare costs associated with diabetes than people with zero or one park
- Differences in the cost of hypertension in healthcare:
- People living in a pedestrian area have 47% less healthcare costs associated with hypertension than people in the vehicle-dependent area
- People who live with six or more nearby parks have 69% less healthcare costs associated with hypertension than people with zero or one park
- Differences in the cost of health care for heart disease
- People who live in a pedestrian zone have 31% less heart health costs than people in a car-dependent area
- People living with six or more parks nearby have 69% less healthcare costs associated with heart disease than people with zero or one park
In true dollar figures, differences in healthcare costs are rigorous – and when multiplied by the affected population, the cost is in tens of millions. For example, diabetes-related costs are worth $ 38,900 for someone who lives in a car-dependent area while he's $ 17,600 for someone living in a passable area.
Researchers hope politicians will implement their research results in policy-making, such as policies that not only broaden public transport but also integrate flexible infrastructure investments.
The neighborhoods must be designed to be walking and cycling oriented and include enough parks, green areas and open air.
In addition, land use planning should support increased access to shops and services and the overall mix and consolidation of land use.
At the same time, however, politicians in the region's healthiest areas – particularly the city of Vancouver – are facing a difficult battle with affordable housing. The shortage of affordable housing for all incomes pushes more and more people out of the city and into suburban and car-dependent areas.