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Expert: obesity, global warming could be fought together

Feb. 26, 2008
Courtesy Oxford Health Alliance
and World Science staff

Glob­al warm­ing and obes­ity are in­ter­twined prob­lems be­cause driv­ing both pol­lutes the air, and all-too-easily re­places walk­ing or bi­cy­cling, a pub­lic health ex­pert claims.

Univers­ity of Syd­ney pub­lic health phy­si­cian Tony Ca­pon ad­vo­cates re­design­ing cit­ies so peo­ple can walk or bike to work more eas­i­ly. “Cars have a place in cit­ies but they should not dom­i­nate,” he said. 

(Courtesy U.S. Nat'l Highway Traffic Safey Administration)


Ca­pon gave a talk on the sub­ject at a sum­mit in Syd­ney this week or­gan­ized by the The Ox­ford Health Al­li­ance, a London-based char­ity that springs from a col­la­bora­t­ion be­tween Ox­ford Uni­ver­s­ity and Dan­ish phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­ny No­vo­Nor­d­isk.

Ca­pon is al­so Proj­ect Di­rec­tor for the Al­li­ance’s En­vi­ron­men­tal De­sign for Pre­ven­tion In­i­ti­a­tive.

“We need to build the phys­i­cal ac­ti­vity back in­to our lives,” he said. “It’s not simply about bike paths, it’s about de­vel­op­ing an ur­ban hab­i­tat that en­ables peo­ple to live healthy lives: en­sur­ing that peo­ple can meet most of their daily needs with­in walk­ing and cy­cling dis­tance of where they live.”

Run­ning au­to­mo­biles re­lease car­bon di­ox­ide, which is be­lieved to con­trib­ute to grad­u­al glob­al tem­per­a­ture in­creases by trap­ping heat.

Cars should “fit with­in a city like eve­ry­thing else and no one thing should be dom­i­nant,” he added. “We have got to have the phys­i­cal con­di­tions right and then peo­ple have got to make the choice to live in a dif­fer­ent way.” Ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments and work­places must be de­signed to en­cour­age phys­i­cal ac­ti­vity in or­der to com­bat obes­ity, di­a­be­tes and heart dis­ease, he con­tin­ued.

Lack of phys­i­cal ac­ti­vity is a risk fac­tor in many chron­ic dis­eases and is es­ti­mat­ed to cause 1.9 mil­lion deaths world­wide each year, Ca­pon said; more than half of the world’s popula­t­ion fails to reach rec­om­mended lev­els of phys­i­cal ac­ti­vity.

Ca­pon ranked the top ur­ban plan­ning pri­or­i­ties for im­prov­ing health as: lo­cat­ing jobs, ser­vic­es, schools and shops close to homes; pro­mot­ing ac­tive trans­port such as walk­ing and cy­cling; im­prov­ing mass trans­it op­tions; in­creas­ing ac­cess to healthy food; and de­vel­op­ing pleas­ant pub­lic spaces.


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Global warming and obesity are intertwined problems because driving both pollutes the air, and all-too-easily replaces walking or bicycling, a public health expert said. University of Sydney public health physician Tony Capon advocates redesigning cities so people can walk or bike to work more easily. “Cars have a place in cities but they should not dominate,” he said. Capon gave a talk on the subject at a summit in Sydney this week organized by the The Oxford Health Alliance, a London-based charity that springs from a collaboration between Oxford University and Danish pharmaceutical company NovoNordisk. Capon is also Project Director for the Alliance’s Environmental Design for Prevention Initiative. “We need to build the physical activity back into our lives,” he said. “It’s not simply about bike paths, it’s about developing an urban habitat that enables people to live healthy lives: ensuring that people can meet most of their daily needs within walking and cycling distance of where they live.” Running automobiles release carbon dioxide, which is believed to contribute to gradual global temperature increases by trapping heat. Cars should “fit within a city like everything else and no one thing should be dominant,” he added. “We have got to have the physical conditions right and then people have got to make the choice to live in a different way.” Urban environments and workplaces must be designed to encourage physical activity in order to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease, he continued. Lack of physical activity is a risk factor in many chronic diseases and is estimated to cause 1.9 million deaths worldwide each year, Capon said; more than half of the world’s population does not reach recommended levels of physical activity. Capon ranked the top urban planning priorities for improving health as: locating jobs, services, schools and shops close to homes; promoting active transport such as walking and cycling; improving mass transit options; increasing access to healthy food; and developing pleasant public spaces.