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Expert urges joint approach on obesity and climate change

Redesigning cities as “human habitats” will help solve the dual crises posed by the obesity epidemic and global warming, according to a leading public health expert.

The Oxford Health Alliance summit in Sydney has been told that urban environments and workplaces must be designed to encourage physical activity in order to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The summit Building a Healthy Future: Chronic Disease and our Environment has brought together a unique alliance of activists to tackle the explosion of preventable chronic diseases which are responsible for nearly 60-per cent of the worlds deaths.

Prof Tony Capon, Project Director for the Oxford Health Alliance's Environmental Design for Prevention Initiative said, “We need to build the physical activity back into our lives and its not simply about bike paths, it’s about developing an urban habitat that enables people to live healthy lives: ensuring that people can meet most of their daily needs within walking and cycling distance of where they live.”

Insufficient physical activity is a risk factor in many chronic diseases and is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths worldwide each year. More than half of the world's population does not reach recommended levels of physical activity.

According to Prof Capon action on health and climate change are intertwined. “Cars have a place in cities but they should not dominate. The car needs to fit within a city like everything else and no one thing should be dominant. We have got to have the physical conditions right and then people have got to make the choice to live in a different way.”

Prof Capon ranks the top urban planning priorities for improving health as:

• locating jobs, services, schools and shops close to where people live;

• promoting active modes of transport (walking and cycling)

• improving mass transit options (bus, train, tram)

• ensuring ready access to healthy food

• developing attractive public spaces

The Oxford Health Alliance will today formally announce the winners of its international Fit City competition designed to provoke thought and discussion amongst young people about the increasing threat of urban environments to health.

Marisa Pulaski | alfa
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