This article popped up from the APTA today on my newsfeed. It is discussing the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance’s “report card” on the state of the United States’ walking and walkability of communities. (Click on that link if you want to see the report in full.) They’ve pulled their data from surveys done by several government agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Center for Health Statistics, Federal Highway Administration, and the United States Census Bureau and one non-profit agency, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. So this is a BIG “n” of respondents we’re talking about here. Exactly how many isn’t addressed in the report card, although I wish it was.
The grades we got on this report card were abysmal. Our standout score was a “C” for 64% of the people walking at least 10 minutes a week for recreation/planned exercise, work, transportation.
10 minutes in A WEEK.
My heart nearly stopped reading that, because that means that 36% of people DON’T walk at least 10 minutes an a WHOLE WEEK!
This brings several questions: 1)WHY is this happening, 2) WHO are these people that don’t move and 3) WHAT can I do about it?
The remainder of the report card addresses at least some portion of the WHY: the environment. There is inadequate infrastructure for pedestrians, such as sidewalks and cross walks with signals to keep walkers safe. The infrastructure isn’t there, because the finances aren’t allocated to create or maintain the infrastructure. There also isn’t sufficient mass transit for people to use. Usually to use mass transit, you have to walk a couple blocks to get to an area’s centralized station to pick up a bus or train. So people that use mass transit tend to walk more too.
The report card doesn’t address directly WHO isn’t walking, but it does address how the non-walkers are created. Kids that don’t walk become adults who don’t walk. The report card says that 2 miles is a “walkable” distance to school. It’s a mile to my closest grocery store and I rarely see anyone walking there. I live in an area with a high African refugee population, so I see them walking to/from the grocery store frequently, but no one else. They grew up walking everywhere; kids that grow up here don’t walk anywhere. The report card says they don’t walk to school, mostly because they don’t live close enough to the school to walk. But I would argue that no distance is close enough for the habitual non-walking respondents, because again, about 1/3 of kids that live LESS THAN 1/4 MILE from the school drive to school and another 10% in that LESS THAN 1/4 MILE group take a bus. A BUS. THEY ARE WILLING TO PAY MONEY TO NOT WALK 1/4 OF A MILE. Look, if you can’t walk a quarter mile….
No wonder as a nation we are fat and sick. Are we the next Rome? Are we going to get so fat and sick that we can’t save ourselves from ourselves and our poor cultural habits?
Now the final and most difficult question: WHAT can I do about it? First of all, I’m calling this out. Right here. Right now. I’m sharing this on social media. I’m talking about it with family, friends, co-workers. ANYONE. EVERYONE. Knowledge is power. Then I always educate my patients on the recommendations for physical activity and provide them ideas of how even they, at their low levels of physical ability, can achieve the recommendations. I also make sure I tell them why these recommendations are made: to keep them healthy and out of having to get sick and come to the hospital again. They’re usually down with doing something to prevent having to come back to see me. I can also use my vote at the polls to say “yes” to finance public infrastructure projects and be involved in the local politics to make sure such things are made priorities. Finally, I can be an example. I can walk that mile to my grocery store instead of driving. I can park in the farthest lot at my hospital system and walk the couple blocks. I can do a lot. YOU can do lot. What are you going to do?