January 31, 2005

Doctors' review links poor public health to urban sprawl

A research report released last week by the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) concludes that poor health outcomes are more prevalent in sprawling communities. "Public Health and Urban Sprawl in Ontario," a review of the pertinent literature, contradicts the vision of suburbia as a sanctuary.

"Many people believe that a move to the suburbs provides a sanctuary from life stressors, however this study brings to light the reality of the impact of urban sprawl on our health." said Dr Cathy Vakil of the College's environmental health committee, who co-wrote the report.

The research brings into sharp focus a number of findings, among them:

Urban sprawl leads to increased motor vehicle use not only because of greater distances, but because it makes adequate public transit services less financially feasible;

Greater dependence on personal vehicle use leads to an increase in air pollution, which is worsening in Ontario every year and contributing to increased respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disease;

People in car-dependent communities walk less, weigh more and are more likely to suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular problems than residents of higher-density, more efficient communities;

"The preservation of greenspace, or the natural environment, is essential to human health. People cannot lead healthy lives without farmland to grow local foods, forests to help purify the air, wetlands to provide safe drinking water and natural surroundings for recreation. Without greenspace you get floods, increased temperatures, and increases in water pollution and water-borne disease," said report co-author Dr Riina Bray, chair of the OCFP environment committee.

"We hope this research review will be a guide for provincial and municipal governments as they make important land-use decisions," said Jan Kasperski, executive director and OCFP CEO, adding, "This review shows clearly that how we chose to build our communities has a direct impact on the health of our citizens."

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