When I visited Copenhagen last summer, what stood out most was the city’s ubiquitous bike culture; for every car, there were nearly 10 bikers in the wide and well-designed bike lanes, regardless of the weather conditions. However, soon after, I returned to my hometown in the suburbs of Braselton, Georgia – a community characterized by a less healthy lifestyle.
In his TedX speech “Healthy Human Habitats,” Howard Frumkin emphasizes active lifestyles and clean air and water as two of the most critical components to healthy living and a thriving community.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air quality acts as an environmental hazard on public health. Those in areas of high air pollution are at an increased risk of respiratory diseases, heart diseases and lung cancer. Likewise, a sedentary lifestyle results and an increased risk of colon cancer, according to a University of Queensland study.
I am perhaps most disappointed in how my hometown compares to these standards. With a high school of over 4,000 people, my community experienced high levels of traffic in both the mornings and afternoons. It was uncommon for anyone to ride buses after finishing their sophomore year, and few students carpooled, resulting in thousands of cars commuting each morning.
Not only did this aspect of Braselton negatively affect air quality, but it also encouraged a sedentary lifestyle. My peers and I sat in our cars for 45 minutes of traffic, waiting to arrive at school. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2015 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), Georgia ranks 18 out of 56 states/territories in the United States for total toxic chemicals released per square mile.
In contrast, I am proud of Braselton for the many healthy aspects it has within its community. According to Frumkin, areas for social interactions are essential to towns where humans thrive. Nearly every morning, I bring my dogs running with me through Mulberry Park, a local park with lakes as well as miles of paved and unpaved trails for runners, horseback riders and hikers. I began to find a community of individuals who also visited the park regularly. These individuals shared a similar interest in living an active lifestyle and understood the importance of protecting our environment. Mulberry Park also hosts 5K races regularly, and I have found that these are incredibly effective ways to engage our community in healthy ways.
Sustainable food and diverse diets, too, are critical. Braselton more than meets this expectation by providing a local garden where community members can volunteer to harvest crops and plant vegetables to eat later. This garden decreases air pollution by limiting the distance over which the food must be transported, and it allows consumers to understand where their food is coming from and which pesticides, if any, are used on them. Awareness of these factors allows the public to understand how sustainable food choices can affect their health.
According to the WHO, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease.” I envision Braselton improving the overall health of its people by planning for a more pedestrian-friendly layout for the city in the future, like my former hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, and by encouraging modes of public transportation by making them more widely accessible. By meeting these goals, the city will be able to effectively live up to and even exceed the WHO’s definition of health. According to the EPA’s 2015 TRI, Braselton has significantly decreased its release of toxic chemicals from 20 pounds in 2013 to only 5 pounds in 2015, partially due to the reduction of asbestos, or toxic minerals used to construct buildings. Small steps such as these suggest that Braselton is well on its way towards positive change.
“Constitution of WHO: Principles.” World Health Organization. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
Environmental Protection Agency. (2015). TRI National Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/trinationalanalysis/where-you-live-2015-tri-national-analysis
Tremblay, M., Colley, Rachel, Saunders, T., Healy, G., & Owen, N. (2010). Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Retrieved from Research Gate.