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Prevention Institute




Prevention Institute

May 15, 2012


Healthy Transportation Planning and Physical Fitness Testing in Schools

ENACT Day is almost here! Tomorrow, nearly 150 participants will convene in Sacramento for Strategic Alliance’s annual grassroots advocacy day. Together, we’ll educate policymakers about opportunities to improve California’s food and activity environments.

What issues are we bringing to our elected officials’ attention, and why do they matter? Last week, we took a closer look at two bills aimed at creating healthy school food environments: Reducing Stigma from School Lunch Participation and Removing Sports Drinks from School. Today, we’re examining two other issues on our ENACT Day Agenda.

Health and Equity in Transportation Planning (AB 441)

Decisions about transportation have an enormous impact on health.  Children living closer to a freeway, for example, are more likely to develop asthma. When people have access to affordable public transportation, they tend to walk or bike to and from train stations, increasing their physical activity and, in effect, decreasing their risk for chronic disease. AB 441 would help ensure city, county, and regional governments consider the health and equity implications of planning and development decisions. Transportation systems designed with health and equity in mind not only mitigate the potential negative impacts of auto-dependent transportation, but can also create infrastructure that encourages alternative modes of transportation—including walking and biking.

Here are some related stories:

  • A recent article reporting on air quality in the United States notes the relationship between income and the risk from air pollutants. According to Janice Nolen of the American Lung Association, “[People with low incomes] live closer to sources that are producing the pollution. You don't have high rent housing near a power plant, or downwind from an industrial site contributing to a problem, or near a busy highway ... You also have folks who have higher incidents of diseases, which makes them at higher risk ... often it's harder for them to get medical care."
  • An article in The Sacramento Bee illustrates that not all community environments are created equally. An analysis of two neighboring communities found that residents of Oak Park— a blighted, predominantly low-income community—are more than 3 times as likely to go to the emergency room for asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure, and can expect to live 3.5 years fewer than their more affluent neighbors.  As stated by Jonathan London, director of the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis, "Where you live influences deeply your exposure to bad stuff, like air pollution, water pollution and violence, and it reduces your access to good stuff, like good jobs, good food, healthy air, healthy water, a peaceful environment, street trees."

Here are some talking points to continue to broaden the frame and discussion of this issue:

  • All communities deserve a fair chance to be healthy. And it shouldn’t be determined by your zip code. The burden of poor air quality, sidewalks in disrepair, and limited access to reliable public transit is not shared equally among Californians. Lower income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected, and the health impact of transportation decisions on surrounding residents is often overlooked.
  • A good solution solves multiple problems. Effective transportation planning strategies—from building sidewalks and bike lanes to traffic calming—can help build prosperous, inclusive communities, while simultaneously addressing many of the leading health, environmental, and economic issues of today (including injury and death rates, physical inactivity-related chronic illnesses, and climate change).

Learn more about AB 441 here.

Protecting Physical Fitness Testing (Budget Item)

When it comes to addressing the health epidemic facing California children—such as increasing rates of type 2 diabetes—objective data that illustrates the scope of the problem is critical to securing the support and resources needed to find a solution. Fitnessgram, the annual Physical Fitness Test required of fifth, seventh, and ninth grade students in California public schools, provides precisely this information. The data produced through this annual testing have informed numerous studies, and have been used to make the case for policies and practices that improve student health at both the state and local level. Despite its importance, the Governor’s latest budget contains a proposal to eliminate the annual mandate for physical fitness testing in schools, and advocates are working hard to ensure this does not happen.

Here are some talking points to continue to broaden the frame and discussion of this issue:

  • Fitnessgram testing helps California address the growing chronic disease epidemic. The data generated from this annual test is the only ongoing, objective, comprehensive source of student health-related fitness data in the state. This information is an invaluable resource for jurisdictions applying for federal chronic disease prevention grants, schools working to improve student test scores, and families identifying fitness and health issues.
  • Eliminating Fitnessgram testing is a shortsighted approach to balancing the State budget. The return on investment for this annual testing is significant. In 2009, for every $1 invested in Fitnessgram testing, California Local Education Agencies received $15 in federal and private resources to improve health and fitness programs that benefit students.
  • While the data generated through this testing has countless uses for educators, researchers, public health professionals, and parents, among others, the act of integrating physical activity into the school day is of immense value in and of itself. A study published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that physical education policy mandates do positively impact fitness levels, and research has consistently shown that physical activity boosts academic performance.
  • We can’t afford not to invest in our children’s health. Preventable illness and chronic disease related to unhealthy eating and lack of physical activity accounts for nearly 17% of our health care costs—that’s $168 million a year in medical costs alone. Physical Education fosters a lifetime commitment to health and wellness. It is a critical strategy if we are to reverse unprecedented surges in Type II diabetes and an array of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer.

Take Action:

  • For those who can’t make it to ENACT Day, join us virtually on Twitter on May 16 (@strat_alliance) for updates on the day’s events. We’ll be live-tweeting throughout the day—using the hashtag #ENACT2012—and invite you to join the conversation.
  • Respond to related news coverage you come across with a letter to the editor, op-ed, or online comment on how school food environments impact health (and don’t forget to share it with us, too).
  • Schedule a visit with your local legislator, and let them know how your community environments impact health. Together, we’ll use this day to build momentum for healthy, equitable environments, and make the case that investing in health and safety now will benefit us all. 

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