A National Active Transportation Strategy can Reduce Chronic Diseases & Health Care Costs

Eight national health organizations have sent a letter to the Federal Minister of Health asking her to invest in the development of a National Active Transportation StrategySignatories to the joint letter include Heart & Stroke, Diabetes Canada, Canadian Cancer Society, The Canadian Lung Association, Asthma Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Upstream, and CAPE.

The joint letter outlines a powerful public health and financial case for active transportation. Chronic diseases consume 67 per cent of the health care budget in Canada. These diseases cost Canadians $190 billion annually: about $65 billion in treatment and $135 billion in lost productivity.  Further, chronic disease rates are increasing rapidly, by about 14 per cent a year.  As a result, health care costs threaten to overwhelm provincial budgets across the country.

Fortunately, active transportation can help stem the tide. Physical activity reduces the risk of over 25 chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.  It also benefits mental health and arthritis.  Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Canadian adults get the 150 minutes of physical activity needed to achieve health benefits and fewer than one in 10 Canadian children get the 60 minutes a day of physical activity needed for healthy growth and development.  Changes to the built environment and other measures can increase physical activity, significantly reducing chronic diseases and their costs. One study found that the risk of premature death from all causes can be decreased by 28 per cent among people who cycle three hours per week and by 22 per cent among people who walk 29 minutes per day, seven days a week.

Increased walking and cycling can also reduce air pollution and its associated health impacts by replacing short car trips.  Investments in active transportation and public transit can also increase access to jobs, services, and recreational opportunities among those who are unable to drive or cannot afford a car.  Changes such as speed reductions, separated bike lanes, and improved pedestrian crossings can also significantly reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists while also encouraging greater levels of physical activity.

A national alliance of active transportation organizations, including Green Communities Canada (Canada Walks), Canada Bikes, and the National ASRTS Working Group, have offered to lead the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy. This coalition would identify infrastructure funding and policies, design standards to be implemented, and support on-going partnerships and community action.

While the Federal Government has announced significant investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and transportation systems, without a National Active Transportation Strategy, we fear that we will miss the opportunity to maximize the health benefits that could result from these federal investments.

Let your Federal Member of Parliament know that you support the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy by emailing your MP today (Federal MP contact list).

Link to English and French versions of the Letter.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE

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A National Cycling Strategy: A Triple Win for Public Health

On June 1, 2017, CAPE participated in the National Bike Summit organized by Canada Bikes where we declared our support for the development of a National Cycling Strategy. Here is why.

A National Cycling Strategy would be a triple win for public health. It would help us to reduce the rate of chronic diseases in Canada. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are escalating at alarming rates across the country. They place a heavy burden on the health care system while also producing pain, disability, and premature deaths for hundreds of thousands of Canadians each year. For example, cardiovascular disease alone costs $12 billion each year in Canada.

Physical activity is one of the most effective “treatments” for chronic diseases. We know that one hour of moderate to vigorous activity per week can reduce the risk of premature death by 4 to 9%. And yet, most Canadian do not get the 2.5 hours of physical activity required to maintain good health. Time—or the lack of it—has been identified as the number one barrier to physical activity.

Active modes of transportation—such as cycling—overcome this barrier. They allow people to get the “exercise” they need while travelling to work or school. One study found that people who cycle or walk to work reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease by 11%. But we know that most people, particularly women and children, will not ride to school or work unless cycling routes feel safe. Experience in other jurisdictions has demonstrated that many people will cycle for travel if they have protected bike lanes that look and feel safe.

A National Cycling Strategy would reduce acute and chronic health impacts associated with air pollution. In 2008, the CMA estimated that air pollution produces 21,000 premature deaths each year in Canada. We know these deaths are the tip of the iceberg. They represent a broad array of adverse health impacts including lung cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart disease. The CMA estimated that air pollution costs Canadians $10 billion per year in direct health care costs and lost time, and that was based on a limited number of health impacts for which the evidence was the strongest.

The transportation sector is one of the most significant sources of air pollution in Canada, particularly in large urban centres and along major traffic corridors. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce air pollution, adverse health impacts, and health care costs by getting residents to use their bikes, instead of their cars, for short trips.

A National Cycling Strategy would also reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called climate change the most significant public health threat of the 21st century. It has estimated that 250,000 people will die prematurely each year by 2030 from climate change unless dramatic action is taken to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Climate change is already claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people each year from heat stress, diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition. Many of the victims are children and the elderly living in some of the poorest countries in the world. While Canadians will not experience the worst of these impacts, we are not be immune to the impacts of climate change.

Already, in Canada, we are experiencing health impacts from wild fires, floods droughts, heat waves, and severe storms that are increasing in frequency and intensity; from insect-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease that are spreading as the climate warms; and from injuries and deaths resulting from melting permafrost and shifting snow cover. The transportation sector in Canada is responsible for about one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce these emissions by getting people to replace short car trips with bike trips.

A National Cycling Strategy is the holy grail of public health; the public policy the serves many public health goals with one investment. It is an investment that will pay for itself many times over in health care savings alone.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, CAPE Executive Director, June 2017

Read more:

Canada Bike’s National Cycling Strategy

Prescribing Active Travel for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet: A Toolkit for Health Professionals