Saturday, November 8, 2008

An Evening with Dr. Richard Jackson

The RRCDC's Reshaping Rochester Lecture Series kicked off on the 22nd of October with a presentation by Dr. Jackson that attempted to tie together aspects of public health and sustainability. The overriding thesis of the discussion was that transportation planning policies have negatively impacted personal and publichealth and environmental quality. This is something I completely concur with.

Dr. Jackson is the department chair of the Environmental Health Sciences department at UCLA's School of Public Health. He was the first director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan. He was originally a pediatrician and has been in the field of public health for 25 years.

Jackson suggests that our narrowed transportation choices, as limited by the physical layout of our communities, diminish the occurrence of "incidental" exercise such as walking or biking to destinations. Auto-centrism has degraded air quality inducing the frequency of asthma and is a leading contributor to the obesity crisis. The spatial division and lack of connectivity between and among school, work, home, shopping, and other destinations not only has detrimental health affects, but also may have intangible consequences such as precluding a true Sense of Community which detracts from Quality of Life. He explores these issues in a book he co-authored entitled, Urban Sprawl and Public Health: Designing, Planning, and Building for Healthy Communities. (Island Press, 2004)

Some of the most jarring content of the evening were graphs that linked obesity factors to the likelihood of becoming diabetic. For instance, women are already four times more likely than men to contract diabetes. Add obesity into the mix and that figure multiplies by another factor of four. Other highlights involved Dr. Jackson displaying a series of maps of the United States with states shaded based on the obese percentage of their population. Starting from roughly 1970, he would then progress forward in 5 year increments. Not surprisingly, the biggest explosion over the last thirty-five years has been seen in a giant swath of states from West Virginia to Texas who rely heavily on two-ton SUVs to check the mail and air-conditioning for all seasons.

To me, linking public health to sustainability is an interesting proposition. I will wholeheartedly agree that keeping more of our society healthy will have enormous financial benefits from an insurance and medical cost standpoint. Unfortunately, something keeps nagging at the back of my mind that big agribusiness that allowed for the 20th century population balloon to be inflated to such mammoth proportion is not something that can be sustained without the very fossil fuels that enable our societal laziness. Nevertheless, I appreciated Dr. Jackson's lecture (I'm not volunteering to be part of any die-off) and gained a greater appreciation and empathy for certain medical conditions brought on by our built environment design flaws.

The next lecture in the series will be given on Tuesday, November 18th at 7PM at the Rochester Academy of Medicine, 1441 East Avenue by W. Cecil Steward, Founding President of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities. The topic will be Profiles in Leadership for Sustainability and will cover the balancing of economic and community development with conservation and preservation of the earth’s natural systems.

No comments: