The built form of our urban environment has a drastic influence on the health and lifestyle of Vancouver Vancouver citizens, according to a new study by researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Conclusion: Suburbs, car-dependent neighborhoods lead to unhealthy lifestyles, while dense, walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods with abundant parks encourage residents to be more physically active, among many benefits.
It also means that Vancouver and parts of western Vancouver, North Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster have neighborhoods that are far healthier than the suburban dominant areas of the region.
Researchers at UBC's Health and Community Design Lab collaborated with several authorities, local health authorities and TransLink for their new study called "Where Matters: Health and Economic Impacts of Where We Live."
The team also analyzed two datasets, with a combined statistical pool of over 50,000 people.
So far, according to researchers, "very few studies have examined how transport investments, neighborhood feasibility and access to green areas are associated with less chronic disease and lower health care costs. So far, existing evidence used to inform large transport decisions has rarely been made to the potential health effects and hence cohesive costs. "
The research is led by Doctor Lawrence Frank, a UBC professor and the Bombardier chair in sustainable transport and public health.
"There is an increasing consensus that the post code in the neighborhood where we live is as important as our genetic code," wrote researchers.
"Our results reveal that the type of neighborhood you live in issues for your health. For this reason, it is important to recognize that the type of investment we make in our transport infrastructure and the resulting land use patterns in our communities will ultimately affect the money we individually and collectively spend as a society on health care. "
The study's key findings reveal strong contrasts between the lifestyle and health outcomes of the two types of urban areas.
Those who live in a walking area, compared to a suburban, car-dependent area, are:
- 45% are more likely to go for transport and 17% are more likely to face the recommended level of physical activity each week
- 39% are less likely to have diabetes
- 42% less likely to be overweight
- 23% less likely to get stressful days
- 47% more likely to have a strong sense of community belongs
In addition, those living in an area of six or more nearby parks ("near" are defined as within one km distance), compared to an area without parks, are:
- 20% more likely to go for leisure or recreation
- 33% more likely to meet weekly recommended levels of physical activity
- 37% are less likely to have diabetes and 39% are less likely to have heart disease
- 43% less likely to be overweight
- 19% less likely to get stressful days
- 23% more likely to have a strong sense of community belonging
Furthermore, residents living in a viable city center generally have lower healthcare costs compared to those living in a suburban area. The results are also equal for them within a kilometer distance from a number of parks.
Through their analysis of costs for health care costs, the researchers decided:
- Cost differences between diabetes and healthcare:
- People living in a moderately viable area have 23% less diabetes-related healthcare costs than people in a car-dependent area
- People living with six or more parks nearby have 75% less diabetes-related healthcare costs than people with zero or a park
- Cost differences for high blood pressure:
- People living in a viable area have 47% lower hypertension-related healthcare costs than people in a car-dependent area
- People living with six or more parks nearby have 69% lower hypertension-related healthcare costs than people with zero or a park
- Cost differences for heart disease
- People living in a viable area have 31% less illness-related healthcare costs than people in a car-dependent area
- People living with six or more parks nearby have 69% less disease-related healthcare costs than people with zero or a park
In real dollar figures, the differences in healthcare costs are sharp – and when multiplied by the affected population, the costs are in tens of millions. For example, diabetes-related costs of $ 38,900 are for someone living in a car-dependent area, while it is $ 17,600 for someone living in a viable area.
Researchers hope that political decision-makers will apply their research results in politics, such as policies that not only expand public transport but also integrate such infrastructure investments with high-density development.
The areas should be designed to be oriented around hiking and cycling, and bring large parks, green areas and open space.
In addition, land use planning should support increased access to stores and services, as well as overall land use and densification.
At the same time, decision makers for the healthiest areas in the region – especially the city of Vancouver – face an upward blow to creating a range of affordable housing. The lack of affordable housing for all income drives more and more people out of the city and into suburban, car-dependent areas.