When a child is overweight, a pediatrician’s first prescription is often environmental — don’t have soft drinks in the home, walk to school, eat healthier food at school, and other such changes, said Dr. Richard Jackson.
“But they can’t change how they get to school or what they serve at the cafeteria,” said Jackson, professor at the University of California Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health. “Two months later, (the child) is taking blood pressure medicine.”
The story is made-up, Jackson said, but this scenario occurs all the time.
“We’ve rigged the environment against our children,” Jackson said.
Jackson was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s symposium hosted by UEP at Tufts: The Economic Promise of Healthy Community Design. The symposium was planned and presented by the private consulting firm, VHB.
During his address, Jackson spoke about his work and studies that show the relationship between a person’s environment and his or her health.
“Where people lived mattered enormously to how they lived,” he said.
Doctors are quick to blame people’s lifestyles for their poor health, Jackson said, but lifestyles are heavily dependent on the design of the built environment.
Children who walk to school show better concentration, mood, and memory, Jackson said, citing a 2009 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Surveys in Canada show that, in the past decade or more, instances of obesity increased in neighborhoods that are not walkable and instances of diabetes have decreased in neighborhoods that are walkable.
But how can people follow the advice to “walk, walk, walk,” said Jackson, when they live in neighborhoods that aren’t walkable?
UEP has developed a new program with the Tufts Medical School to examine the issues raised by Dr. Jackson at the symposium. UEP students can now receive graduate degrees in public health (MPH) and UEP (MA) simultaneously over three years, as opposed to the four years it would take to study them separately. The joint MPH and UEP program is a step toward fostering a mindset to look across the often disconnected disciplines. More information about the new dual degree program can be found at: http://as.tufts.edu/uep/programs/joint/publichealth.
“In the 20th Century, we solve problems one at a time,” Jackson said. “(But) a good solution solves multiple problems.”