Making the community more walkable is a great way to improve the health of those who live here, according to Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for the North Island. Black Press File Photo

City of Campbell River should encourage people to walk more and drive less, health officer says

In walkable communities, people have better health outcomes and, generally, ‘are happier people’

Dr. Charmaine Enns, medical health officer for the North Island, encourages city council to make it easier for people to walk to where they’re going.

She presented her periodic community health review to city council at a recent meeting and focused on factors that lead to a healthy population – or an unhealthy one.

In order to encourage a healthy population, Enns says, “we tend to put a lot of pressure on people to make good choices and to be responsible as individuals for their health, but the reality is that so many issues that are really determinants of health are happening at the community level, at home or in the family, and often before people have any choice about their life as children. The more we stack up those determinants, the harder it is for people to actually have any type of control over the outcomes of their health and well-being.”

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One of the troubling things Enns sees happening in terms of public health in the region is the percentage of people who are living with a chronic condition like heart disease, asthma, mood and anxiety disorders and arthritis. Over half of the population of Campbell River lives with a chronic condition, compared to 43 per cent province wide.

“The reason I bring this up is that chronic conditions are sensitive to socio-economic and environmental interventions or stimuli,” Enns says, and these can be affected and changed by things like air quality improvements and other infrastructure improvements like making the community more walkable.

“This is a very car-dependent community. Over 85 per cent of people here drive a car to work,” she says, which shows that the community isn’t very walking-friendly.

“Walkability is directly tied to health and health outcomes,” Enns says. “The biggest reduction in terms of disease prevention happens going from sedentary to any action.

“If you park your car at the end of the parking lot instead of near the door, you’re going to have a benefit.”

So, naturally, the more the city can do to encourage people to walk a little more – and drive a little less – will be good for the health of those who live here, Enns says, citing a “really sophisticated and wonderful study” that just came out of the Lower Mainland that looked at the cost of healthcare and the amount of disease, comparing walkable versus car-dependant communities.

“The amount of money that is spent on healthcare-related costs is significantly higher in car dependant areas than in communities that are walkable. They also found a significant relationship between health outcomes and reduced healthcare costs when neighbourhoods had parks.”

In walkable communities, Enns says, people are 42 per cent less likely to be obese, 39 per cent less likely to have diabetes, “and they are happier people.”

“This isn’t about being an athlete,” she says. “This isn’t about buying expensive equipment. This is just about walking. Moving. You’re going to see substantial health benefits.”

For its part, council is looking to address some of these issues in its upcoming Master Transportation Plan as well as its review of the Urban Containment Boundary, which will decide, in part, where and how the community wants to grow in the future.

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