PBS series examines impact of the built environment on public health

In a new TV series to air on public television in February, host and narrator Dr. Richard Jackson examines the impact the built environment has on key public health indicators. The film highlights the growing recognition that decisions about land use, community design, and transportation planning have a direct effect on physical and mental health, including the rate of obesity, the incidence of chronic diseases, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and pedestrian injury and fatality.

Environmental conditions, such as poor air quality, deteriorated housing conditions, and ground and surface water contamination all are influenced by land-use planning and all have an effect on public health, especially on disadvantaged populations, including minorities, children, and the elderly. 

In the four-hour series, “Designing Healthy Communities,” Jackson connects bad community design with burgeoning health costs, then analyzes and illustrates innovative solutions that residents of several cities in the United States are implementing in their own communities.

Episode I, “Retrofitting Suburbia” airs on WVIZ, Channel 25, in Cleveland on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. In this episode, Jackson investigates the link between the nation’s obesity and Type 2 Diabetes epidemic with urban sprawl fueled by car dependency in Boulder and Denver, Colorado and Atlanta, Georgia.

Episode 2, “Rebuilding Places of the Heart,” airs on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 4 p.m. Jackson examines efforts redefine the post-industrial cities of Elgin, Illinois and Syracuse, New York in a way that is greener and more sustainable.

Episode 3, “Social Policy in Concrete,” which airs on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 3 p.m., shines a spotlight on residents of low-income neighborhoods in Oakland, California, Detroit, Michigan, and Oakland, California, who suffer from asthma, obesity and other health issues.

In the final episode, “Searching for Shangi La,” which airs on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 4 p.m., Jackson searches America’s past and present to find models of healthy, sustainable communities. He visits Roseto, Pennsylvania; Prairie Crossing, Illinois; New York City; Charleston, South Carolina and Detroit, Michigan.

Jackson has held several public health positions. His work with the California Department of Public Health led to the establishment of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program. At the CDC, Jackson established the National Asthma Epidemiology and Control Program and advanced the childhood lead poisoning prevention program. In 2004, Jackson co-authored the book Urban Sprawl and Public Health from Island Press.

The program was produced by the Media Policy Center and was sponsored by the Wallace Genetic Foundation, the Marisla Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The California Endowment.

Locally, Cuyahoga County has initiated the “Creating Healthy Communities” (CHC) initiative, to assist communities in adopting and implementing land use policies that have a positive impact on residents’ health.  The program is funded by the Ohio Department of Health (ODPH) and coordinated locally by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, Cuyahoga County Planning Commission and The Ohio State University Extension The goal is to raise local awareness about the linkages between our built environment and our health and to advocate for healthy community design that integrates evidence-based health strategies into community planning, transportation, and land-use decisions.

For more information on the Cuyahoga County initiative, visit www.ccbh.net/healthy-communities.

Kristin Hopkins

Kristin Hopkins is a Cleveland Heights resident and certified land use planner with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.

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Volume 5, Issue 3, Posted 12:33 PM, 01.31.2012