I hope many of you were able to watch episode 1 of the PBS Series Designing Healthy Communities
, which aired last night at 7 pm on WGTV in Atlanta. Entitled Retrofitting Suburbia
, this first installment of the four-part series was fantastic -- a compelling call to action for those who see the clear and frightening ways in which our built environment is making millions of Americans sick. Apparently, I was not the only one who thought so, based on the calls, texts, emails, and Facebook posts coming in during and after the show.In his comments and the stories he shared, Dr. Richard Jackson confronted head on the public health factors we believe a trail system can help combat.
When someone with his credentials tells us what doctors are seeing and where current trends are leading, I really hope public officials are taking note.If you watched, I'd love to see your comments and reflections about the program. What does it all mean for us here in Newton County? If you didn't watch, here's a short snippet of what you missed.
Also, I was so impressed with the program I purchased the entire DVD set. So, watch for announcements of future screening events where we can gather to watch and discuss what it all means for Newton County.
Last week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) published county-by-county rankings
for every US state on key measurements of community health. Newton County's low score on adult health behaviors (143rd out of 159 Georgia counties) prompted a Covington News editorial
asking readers "What will it take to make Newton County healthier?I've sent a response I hope they run as a guest editorial. As head of a non-profit dedicated to building community green space for passive family recreation, I take note of Newton County's low score for physical environment, where we ranked 110th. Not only do we lack ready access to as many recreation facilities as most Georgia counties, the facilities we do have are geared largely to youth sports. We have a significant lack of parks and greenways where adults and families can walk, run, bike, skate, or otherwise get much needed physical activity in a car-centric world.Extensive research over the past decade has shown the "built environment" in which we live has a major impact on individual and community health. The video below from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides a great overview of the factors that make certain communities healthier than others. And, if we are to rise to the challenge issued by the Covington News, we would do well to pay attention to such prescriptions for
building healthy communities. (Not surprisingly, trails and greenways are a prominent element in the CDC's recommendations.)
That firm belief asserted by FDR in his first inaugural address at the height of the Great Depression, has been on my mind of late. Is fear bad? Some would argue it's a healthy thing that stops us from wandering needlessly into harm's way. But, FDR went on to describe the fear he sought to tame: "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." And, it's that idea that keeps coming back to me, as I listen to rail-trail opponents who invoke rumors of crime to frighten citizens.Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror... It's effective. And, sometimes, it's well intentioned. But, while fear can trigger life-preserving behavior, it also has a way of breeding irrational actions that are ultimately counter to our best interests.For examples of irrational fear, I think back to those horrific days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For weeks, months, and even years after seeing planes used as weapons of destruction, many Americans would not fly on a commercial airliner.
And, yet, among the 2,977 victims killed that terrible day, only 246 died on airplanes. The vast majority -- 2,731 people -- were killed doing something most of us do every day... putting in a days work... in a high-rise office tower, at the police or fire department, or at the Pentagon. And, yet, no one spoke openly about fearing to go back to work. It was the idea of air travel that gave us pause.I'll never criticize anyone for being afraid. It's not a reaction we can easily control. But, because it is often irrational, it serves us well to question fear. And, when it comes to opposing a walking or biking trail because of crime concerns, that is an irrational fear.
Consider the sad story of Jennifer Ewing, a 54-year-old woman murdered on the Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County in 2006. News coverage of that incident sent shock waves through the community of trail users in that area. It was a sobering reminder bad things can happen. But they can happen anywhere. That murder was on a bike trail. But, there were 600 other homicides committed in Georgia that same year: They happened in mall parking lots, on the streets, and very often in homes. In our own community, in 2006, we had a tragic murder in a fast food parking lot. But we, knew the cause of that tragedy was a madman behind the wheel of a car, not the place where the crime occurred.In a world where evil doers exist, caution is a must. But, irrational fear puts us in greater danger, not less. Some are afraid to walk or bike on a trail, and yet we:
Worse than any of these, though, is when we let fear convince us not to walk or bike at all. Consider these findings based on causes of death reported by the Centers for Disease Control in 2005:
- Get into a car and drive on Georgia's streets and highways where 7,842 people have died in crashes over the past five years.
- Walk alongside and across Georgia roads where 749 pedestrians were killed in automobile crashes over those same five years.
- Bicycle on busy roadways where an average of 20 Georgia cyclists are killed in car collisions each year.
- Heart disease, cancer, and stroke accounted for 67% of all deaths.
- Accidents accounted for less than 6%.
- Assault and homicide were the cause of less than 1%.
- The average American is 82 times more likely to die from a medical condition such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, or respiratory ailments, than by assault or homicide. And, the majority of these medical conditions can be mitigated by regular exercise.
When we allow an irrational fear to discourage us from building better places to exercise, we actually put ourselves and our children at greater risk of an early death. With our state ranking the second worst for childhood obesity rates, and our county being among the worst in Georgia, there is a trend here we must reverse.
Children born today will likely be the first generation of Americans to live shorter lives than their parents.To borrow the words of FDR, we cannot let "
nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror paralyze needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."