A couple of years ago, I wrote up a review of the literature on the lack of transportation as a barrier to health care access, which many people in the United States face. There’s another side to the intersection of transportation and health, however, and that’s that our transportation infrastructure and policies go a long way in shaping our health. In addition to access to transportation being an important determinant of access to care, the modes of transportation we use have health consequences. For example, heavy reliance on personal automobiles can contribute to obesity–we walk less and drive more–and negatively effects the environment–from the air we breathe to other consequences of the greenhouse effect and global warming–not to mention that people die in car accidents.
It would be best if people walked or biked more often, but our community infrastructure isn’t designed with this in mind. Actually, where I live in North Carolina, we are way above the national average in terms of things like bike paths and trails–and I routinely see more people out and about here than anywhere else I’ve lived.
But back to the original point–our transportation modes can take a toll on our society’s health. And now there’s a report from the American Public Health Association, “The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation,” that quantifies that toll and puts its cost in the billions of dollars. It’s pretty remarkable. Maybe we need to rethink how we get around.