April 6 marks the beginning of National Public Health Week. The focus of the American Public Health Association this year is how to take steps forward to make the United States the healthiest nation in one generation – by 2030. The U.S. healthcare system does a good job when it comes to taking care of people who are sick, but we lag far behind other nations in keeping ourselves healthy. The U.S. has a lower life expectancy than similar Western countries and higher rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Missouri itself ranks 36th in overall health in the U.S. and 34th for obesity, with 30% of its population being obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, becoming physically active is one of the most important steps we can take to improve our health. People who are physically active tend to live longer, and have lower risk for heart disease, depression, obesity, and diabetes. Unfortunately, only 45% of St. Louis City residents and 52% of County residents meet the CDC’s recommendations for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week.
Right now Missourians walk and bicycle at less than half the national rate. Surveys show that heavy traffic, fast traffic, and a lack of bicycle facilities discourage pedestrians and bicyclists in the St. Louis area. Both St. Louis City and County have taken steps forward by enacting Complete Streets policies – policies that require roads be designed with all users in mind, not just motorists. These will help promote more active lifestyles and make it easier for people to run errands and travel to work or school on foot or on a bicycle.
Unfortunately the St. Louis region still has a high rate of pedestrian and bicyclist accidents and fatalities. Motorists need to remember to be aware of bicyclists and pedestrians and give then safe clearance when passing them in traffic. Bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists all need to obey traffic lights and stop signs and realize that we all need to share the roads.
To make our nation the healthiest in one generation we need to make a concerted effort to get ourselves moving so we can lose weight and decrease the rates of chronic diseases. Bicycling and walking are both great ways to get exercise and to get around the area. St. Louis City and County are working to make our roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists so let’s take advantage of this and show our politicians that we are using these streets to help make our community healthier.