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Am J Public Health. 2006 April; 96(4): 592.
PMCID: PMC1470546

Designing Healthy Communities, Raising Healthy Kids: National Public Health Week 2006

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, Executive Director

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The waves, winds, and rains of Hurricane Katrina irreversibly altered the landscape of the US Gulf Coast. Some communities are rebuilding on existing foundations; others are starting anew, with a virtual tabula rasa.

Community leaders have been grappling with intense decisions on how—or in some instances, whether—to rebuild. Despite the sobering trials they face, they are presented with a unique opportunity: to factor health into community design and to rebuild these communities better than before.

Imagine having the opportunity to redesign your own community. What would you change? How would you plan development so that achieving optimum health would be a priority? Would roads dominate your transportation options? Would housing be closer to jobs, grocery stores, and retail outlets? Would you preserve more park or farmland? These considerations are paramount to developing communities that can sustain good health.

Children can be considered a bellwether for the health of our communities. They are affected by their environment far more than adults. And we all want our kids to be as healthy and safe as possible, but we are losing ground in this fight, in part because of our modern built environment. Children who live close to their schools often do not walk or bicycle to class because there are no sidewalks. Our nation’s reliance on automobiles has contributed to increased pedestrian fatalities and higher rates of childhood asthma due to air pollution. Lack of access to fresh foods has helped lead to increasing childhood obesity and disturbing health disparities in underserved communities. In short, healthy communities are on the verge of being engineered out of existence, especially when it comes to children.

That’s why the American Public Health Association and hundreds of partners are joining together to raise awareness about the linkages between the built environment and children’s health. National Public Health Week, April 3–9, 2006, will highlight the importance of designing healthy communities so we can raise healthy kids.

The good news is that while we created today’s built environments, we are capable of creating healthier ones. Many communities are beginning to do just that, banding together to create more livable communities with town centers, better public transit, and more bicycle paths, sidewalks, and parks. The changes they are making serve as examples to others who are concerned about improving the health of their children. Actions can be taken at various levels of government, by businesses and schools, and by individual citizens.

Join us in assessing the challenges presented by our built environment and in identifying and implementing ways to create communities that help promote and sustain good health, especially for our kids. To get involved or to learn more about National Public Health Week, visit http://www.apha.org/nphw.

Articles from American Journal of Public Health are provided here courtesy of American Public Health Association
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