2014 Local Government Election Issues

Vote for Health!

  1. Healthy Community Planning

  2. Active Transportation

  3. Healthy Eating and Food Security

  4. Renewal of Recreation Facilities

  5. Health Promoting Schools

  6. Supporting Affordable Housing

 

 

1. Healthy Community Planning

Density, affordability, connectivity and the relative mix of land uses within a community determine how far and how people will have to travel to meet their everyday needs.[i] Local governments have a leadership role to play in determining the sustainability, health and overall livability of a community.

Faced with multiple challenges, in some cases growth, in some cases declining populations, all communities must respond to the various needs of their citizens. Through their planning and land use powers, local government leaders make decisions that will determine the types of services, amenities, recreation, transportation and housing options available. But they cannot do it alone.

In partnership with the provincial and federal government, local governments are addressing diverse needs, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving public and environmental health, revitalizing town centres, encouraging physical activity and building age/access friendly communities.

Social planning processes can engage citizens to prioritize and create a vision and plan to address the complex social issues faced by the community. Social plans are designed to improve the inclusiveness of communities as well as maximize the impact of investments made by all levels of government.

2. Active Transportation

Daily physical activity feels good because it is so good for you. Creating and improving places suited to physical activity can result in a 25% increase in the percentage of people who exercise at least three times per week.[ii] This may explain why people who live in neighbourhoods offering a mix of shops and businesses within easy walking distance have a 35% lower risk of being an unhealthy weight.[iii]

When we use the term, ‘Active Transportation’, we immediately think of pedestrians and cyclists but it’s important to consider users such as those in wheelchairs and strollers.

Some common features of environments that support active transportation – on the road or sidewalk, include:

  • Increased Street connectivity – makes trips more direct for walkers, wheelers and cyclists.
  • Slower car speeds – makes other road and sidewalk users feel safer
  • Trees and landscaping –makes a more interesting environment for walkers but also creates an illusion of a narrower street which has been proven to slow driving speeds
  • Lighting (especially at road crossings) – improves safety for walkers, wheelers and cyclists.
  • Traffic calming – can include traffic circles, partial or full road closures, speedbumps, landscaping, and sidewalk bulges which both slow cars and narrow the crossing distance at crosswalks.

Walkers and wheelers also benefit from:

  • Good sidewalks – that are wide enough so people can stroll in company (instead of single-file)
  • Curb cuts (ramps) – allow those in wheelchairs, scooters and strollers to  navigate on and off sidewalks without having to go out onto the road,
  • Benches and other street furniture – benches provide a destination or resting spot which is especially important for seniors and those with limited mobility.

Cyclists have other needs including

  • Designated routes (including separated bike paths)- are best when they are part of an integrated network and provide safe traffic-reduced or separated pathways appropriate for cyclists of various skill-levels
  • Signage –cyclists need signage for routes (especially when routes intersect with other routes or require a change of direction) and to alert drivers of the need to share the road
  • End-use facilities – having a safe (preferably dry) place to lock up one’s bike whether a bike cage for the ride to work or a bike rack in front of a shop

3. Healthy Eating and Food Security

Affordable, healthy, local and culturally acceptable food makes a difference to our individual health, the resilience of our community and the integrity of our environment.

Eating five to ten servings of vegetables and fruits daily is key to good health. Evidence shows vegetables and fruit have a protective effect against the development of chronic disease and that even a one-serving-per-day increase is linked to a 20% reduction in all causes of mortality.[iv]

In BC, as in other provinces, there are pronounced differences in healthy eating which are linked to the social and economic determinants of health. Although the issue is complex, social markers (income, education, employment, race, gender, etc.) can help to predict those with the highest risk for unhealthy eating and food insecurity.[v]

In many low income neighbourhoods, the relative shortage of grocery stores makes access to a variety of healthy foods challenging. Often groceries are more expensive in these areas when compared to stores in more affluent neighbourhoods. Studies in Edmonton and Toronto have shown a higher concentration of fast food outlets in low income neighbourhoods.[vi],[vii] Thesre is evidence that where there are higher numbers of fast food outlets per population there are also increased rates of obesity, mortality and admissions for acute coronary syndromes.[viii], [ix]

Access to healthy, affordable food is even more challenging to remote, rural and Northern residents, many of whom are First Nations. The limited food supply and transportation system leaves many citizens in these communities with few choices in fresh produce that are often expensive and of poor quality.

A mixture of planning and zoning measures along with other incentives and disincentives should be explored to ensure all communities have easy access to healthy foods while limiting the proliferation of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods.

Resources such as community gardens and farmers markets not only increase the availability of local food, they also create opportunities for community development and facilitate a better connection between residents and their food sources. Local governments can also support the provision of healthy food and beverage choices in recreation facilities and local government buildings, through the adoption of policies and practices that encourage healthy eating. First Nations stewardship and access to traditional territories will increase the availability of environmentally safe traditional food sources.

4. Renewal of Recreation Facilities

The local recreation centre is a central hub for physical activity and social interaction in communities across BC. Parks, trails, pools, arenas and community centres are often the first place people who want to be active seek out opportunities. They are inclusive, diverse and strive to welcome and engage the community.  However, these recreation facilities are increasingly challenged to deliver what communities require.

According to the BC Recreation and Parks Association’s report “A Time for Renewal”, upwards of 75% of BC’s recreation, parks and sports facilities are 25 years of age and older and half are over 35 years old, and “in urgent need of renewal or replacement.”

These inefficient, aging facilities are not only environmentally wasteful but also consume substantial resources just to maintain. “More than replacement, it is imperative that we ensure a sufficient and appropriate stock of recreation facilities exist to support healthy living, adapting our facilities so that the demographic, cultural, heritage and health needs of the population are met.”[x]

Well-planned multi-purpose facilities, outdoor spaces and trails support and promote healthy and active lifestyles. They enable people of all ages and backgrounds to incorporate and participate in physical activity and become engaged citizens.

Recreation facilities also promote community development and viability. Parks, trails and recreation facilities increase property values and tax revenue. Recreation facilities generate construction and operations job opportunities and support tourism, providing venues for everything from high-performance sporting events to recreational attractions.x

Renewed infrastructure will help maintain the economic and social viability of BC communities. Municipalities have invested in the well-being of their citizens but they need to seek support from other levels of government and to plan for the future.

5. Healthier Schools

BC children spend six hours per day, five days a week at school – making it essential that schools support healthy living. Creating healthier school environments is a shared responsibility of the government, school board and community.
The foods available to children in schools must meet the School Food Guidelines, making the healthy choice, the easy choice. But what about the learning environment? How do we promote the best outcomes for all children, and improve graduation rates for disadvantaged children? How can school boards help?

Health promoting schools create conditions that are conducive to health, including mental health and wellbeing, providing healthy environments, and allowing children the room to make healthy decisions for themselves.

School boards and local governments can promote school health in the following ways:

Providing healthy amenities:

  • Safe and active routes for children to cycle or walk to school. Distance to school is one of the biggest predictors of childrens’ physical activity rates[xi] which is something that should be considered when locating new schools or closing schools in response to shifting enrolment rates.
  • Outdoor play opportunities – playgrounds and where possible, healthy learning environments such as natural areas or school gardens.
  • Kitchen facilities to support healthy school lunches and/or cooking and nutrition instruction. Schools can provide the basic grounding for future healthy habits by teaching our children basic cooking skills.

Supportive environments to improve the school experience and keep children in school:

  • Meal programs so that disadvantaged children can focus on learning;
  • Child and youth assessment and support services within schools to address substance abuse, teen pregnancy and young parenthood, suicide prevention, counseling and other mental and physical health issues;
  • Early identification and interventions to keep high-risk students in school and improve graduation rates;
  • A proven level of cultural competency and access to training for all professionals working with Aboriginal and immigrant students
  • Inclusive, welcoming schools have been shown to reduce bullying and promote mental wellness for all students

Support healthy choices within schools:

  • Physical activity and health programs that make it easy for teachers and schools to promote healthy and active lifestyles, such as Action Schools, Sip Smart! BC, Screen Smart and Walking School Bus programs

 

 

6. Supporting Affordable Housing

Housing is one of the most basic requirements for health. When people spend excessive amounts of income on housing, fewer resources are available for other essentials.[xii]

Studies show that affordable housing improves health outcomes by freeing up resources for nutritious food and other essentials. It also reduces stress, exposure to allergens, neurotoxins and other dangers as well as provides the stability that enables patients with chronic diseases to access and maintain the level of care they need.xii

Every community has people who need affordable housing whether they are young families, in front-line service or entry-level positions, retired or in otherwise low waged or on fixed incomes.  From a public health perspective, perhaps the most acute manifestation of the housing issue relates to homelessness.

While it is not the jurisdiction of local governments to provide affordable housing, some have taken steps to support the development of affordable housing.  The Union of BC Municipalities has listed “the actions that have been taken:

  • provided municipal land for treatment and supportive housing;
  • waived fees for non-profit organizations to assist in the development of affordable housing and supportive housing;
  • developed housing action plans;
  • identified areas in Official Community Plan to locate facilities;
  • implemented fast-tracking policy decision-making to assist the construction;
  • changed zoning regulations to facilitate construction;
  • changed development permit policy to require a certain number of low cost units in new developments.
  • provided for secondary suites and/or carriage housing in local neighbourhoods.”[xiii][1]

 

[i] Frank, L., Kavage, S., Litman, T. Promoting public health through Smart Growth: Building healthier communities through transportation and land use policies and practices. Smart Growth BC, 2006.
[ii] Prevention Institute. Healthy Eating & Physical Activity: Addressing Inequities in Urban Environments. 2007 http://preventioninstitute.org/sa/pdf/RWJNC.pdf Accessed January 15, 2008.
[iii] BC Alliance for Healthy Living Physical Activity Strategy, March 2007 http://www.bchealthyliving.ca/sites/all/files/file/BCHLA_PhysicalActivityStrategy.pdf
[iv] Khaw, K.T., et al., Relation between plasma ascorbic acid and mortality in men and women in EPIC‐Norfolk prospective study: a prospective population study. European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Lancet, 2001. 357(9257): p. 657‐63.
[v] Kerstetter, S. and Goldberg, M. A Review of Policy Options for Increasing Food Security and Income Security in British Columbia. Draft paper prepared for Provincial Health Services Authority, Vancouver, March, 2008.
[vi] University of Alberta Express News (2005) “Study shows city’s poor have higher access to fast food” http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/researchandstudents/news.cfm?story=35208 Accessed June 30, 2009
[vii] Glazier RH, Booth GL, Gozdyra P, Creatore MI, Ross, K, Tynan, M,. Fast Food and Diabetes In: Glazier RH, Booth GL, Gozdyra P.Creatore MI, Tynan, M, editors. Neighbourhood Environments and Resources for Healthy Living—A Focus on Diabetes in Toronto: ICES Atlas. Toronto: Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences; 2007
[viii] J. Maddock, .The Relationship Between Obesity and the Prevalence of Fast Food Restaurants: State-Level Analysis,. American Journal of Health Promotion 19, 2 (2004): pp. 137.143.
[ix] D. A. Alter and K. Eny, The Relationship Between the Supply of Fast-Food Chains and Cardiovascular Outcomes, Canadian Journal of

Public Health 96, 3 (2005): pp. 173.177.
[x] BC Recreation and Parks Association, A Time for Renewal An Assessment of British Columbia’s Recreation Facilities. 2009 http://www.bcrpa.bc.ca/recreation_parks/facilities/sports_recreation/documents/Full_Report_Final.pdf
[xi] Frank, L. ‘Making the case for investment in the public realm’ Walk 21 Presentation. October 5, 2011.
[xii] Lubell, Jeffrey, Rosalyn Crain, and Rebecca Cohen. 2007. The Positive Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health. Washington, D.C.: Center for Housing Policy and Enterprise Community Partners.
[xiii] Union of BC Municipalties, Policy Paper #2: Affordable Housing and Homelessness Strategy. September 2008