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Vol. LXVI, No. 25
December 5, 2014
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Experts Discuss Building Health into the Environment

Mind the Gap seminar included Gwen Wright of the Montgomery County planning department Acting surgeon general Radm. Boris Lushniak

Speakers at the Medicine: Mind the Gap seminar included Gwen Wright (l) of the Montgomery County planning department and acting surgeon general Radm. Boris Lushniak.

Photos: Daniel Soñé

With growing inactivity and obesity, today’s American children may for the first time in history have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Human-made surroundings, such as buildings, sidewalks, parks and transportation systems—also referred to as the built environment—are at the root of both the problem and the solution.

A Medicine: Mind the Gap seminar held Nov. 5 at Natcher Conference Center brought together partners from academic research, planning and local authorities to foster healthier built environments. Acting surgeon general Radm. Boris Lushniak delivered opening remarks.

Dr. Allen Glicksman, director of research and evaluation at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, presented results of his NINR-funded study showing that walkability and age-friendly efforts improve senior health. There is ample evidence that physical activity and access to nature benefit personal well-being, job performance and local economy. Surveys show that people naturally prefer compact walkable communities to traditional car-dependent suburbs. Rachel MacCleery, senior vice president of the Urban Land Institute, provided examples of how community developers can shape public health by “making the healthy choice—such as walking instead of driving—the easy choice.”

Gwen Wright, planning director of the Montgomery County planning department, highlighted local efforts to promote the concept of 10-minute living—easy access to healthy foods, parks and amenities. Transit-oriented design (TOD) offers convenient transportation choices that encourage walking and helps create healthy neighborhoods. One example of a TOD community is the Pike and Rose development being constructed near the White Flint Metro. Montgomery County maintains large farmland reserves and actively supports the suppliers of local produce such as the Bethesda Farm Women’s Market, which has been open since 1932. The county had partnered with local physicians for a “park prescription” program that helps residents reconnect with nature. Wright mentioned that the NIH campus in Bethesda is an important part of the county’s master plan.

Nearly 300 people joined the seminar in person or via videocast and a lively discussion continued on social media. Many NIH institutes and offices—including NIDA, NIMH, OBSSR and NCCAM—participate in the National Prevention Strategy, which the seminar series highlights. The seminar, the first in the series, was co-sponsored by the NIH Office of Disease Prevention and the Office of the Surgeon General. Commending the joint effort, Lushniak said, “Built environment is a key component of the concept of walkable communities, of putting America back into its walking shoes. It’s achievable, but for that, we need partnerships, we need to think outside the box, we need to mind the gap.”


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