Had an interesting time at the Fit City/Fat City dialogue the other week. Meant to blog on it sooner, but trips got in the way. However I’ve now had a week to reflect on the dialogue, and suddenly realizing that it’s the 5 year anniversary of Building Up (the Canada25 report on cities – can’t believe it’s been that long already) so I thought I would dedicate this week’s posts to public policy ideas for creating healthy cities.
Summary of the Fit City/Fat City Dialouge
Despite it’s title The Fit City/Fat City Dialogue was interesting, but didn’t feel much like a dialogue. It was more of a traditional public event with the panellists making presentations and the subsequent discussion essentially limited to a Q&A session.
Unfortunantely, rather than use the Q&A as an opportunity to develop ideas for advancing a fit city the panel fell into two traps. First, the panel kept dwelling on limited power of municipalities. True, cities don’t regulate food or manage healthcare, and their limited power of taxation constrain program delivery. But let us not underestimate the enormous influence they have on health issues. Indeed, given that municipal governments determine the physically environment in which citizens live, they probably control the single most important tool.
Secondly, the panel was dismissive of partial solutions. As Roland Guasparini, the Chief Medical Health Officer Fraser Health Authority stated: “What’s the point of designing a community that encourages walking when all it means is that people walk to the local store to buy a chocolate bar?” I couldn’t disagree more. Not only is this an opportunity for cities to lead, but the benefits of a walking community are significant no matter what its citizens eat. Yes, it would be nice if all three levels of government agreed to a single plan, but is it necessary? Moreover, the time consumed by such negotiations would be horrendous. In short, this problem can be addressed incrementally, knowing that we can’t solve the whole thing with a single policy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act to solve some of it.
So, in the spirit of adding to the pool of ideas in support of a ‘healthy city’ here are my five policy suggestions in five days, one for each year of Building Up:
Idea #1: Physical Education: make it mandatory… and fun.
As this publication notes participation in physical education dropped from 70% to 60% in the province of Ontario. A trend that many Canadians believe is limited to the Unites States is indeed occurring here. Should we be surprised that an increasing number of young Canadians (not to mention Canadians generally) are becoming obese? Public Schools play a powerful role in instilling civic values and establishing behaviours. When we lower the expectations around physical education in our school we send a powerful message to all Canadians about the value we place on physical exercise.
Making PE mandatory feels like a good first step. But why not try some more creative ideas? Some American schools have been using the video game Dance Dance Revolution to encourage kids to get active (Norway even made it a national sport) and this blogger used his Wii game console to lose 2% of his body fat in 6 weeks. As Stephen Johnson notes in his book, video games can cultivate problem solving skills, if they can also help burn calories… why not?
[tags]health, fitness, urban planning, health policy[/tags]