A National Active Transportation Strategy Can Reduce Chronic Diseases and Health Care Costs

Eight national health organizations have sent a letter to the Federal Minister of Health asking her to invest in the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy.  Signatories to the joint letter include Heart & Stroke, Diabetes Canada, Canadian Cancer Society, The Canadian Lung Association, Asthma Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Upstream, and CAPE.

The joint letter outlines a powerful public health and financial case for active transportation. Chronic diseases consume 67 per cent of the health care budget in Canada. These diseases cost Canadians $190 billion annually: about $65 billion in treatment and $135 billion in lost productivity.  Further, chronic disease rates are increasing rapidly, by about 14 per cent a year.  As a result, health care costs threaten to overwhelm provincial budgets across the country.

Fortunately, active transportation can help stem the tide. Physical activity reduces the risk of over 25 chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.  It also benefits mental health and arthritis.  Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Canadian adults get the 150 minutes of physical activity needed to achieve health benefits and fewer than one in 10 Canadian children get the 60 minutes a day of physical activity needed for healthy growth and development.  Changes to the built environment and other measures can increase physical activity, significantly reducing chronic diseases and their costs. One study found that the risk of premature death from all causes can be decreased by 28 per cent among people who cycle three hours per week and by 22 per cent among people who walk 29 minutes per day, seven days a week.

Increased walking and cycling can also reduce air pollution and its associated health impacts by replacing short car trips.  Investments in active transportation and public transit can also increase access to jobs, services, and recreational opportunities among those who are unable to drive or cannot afford a car.  Changes such as speed reductions, separated bike lanes, and improved pedestrian crossings can also significantly reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists while also encouraging greater levels of physical activity.

A national alliance of active transportation organizations, including Green Communities Canada (Canada Walks), Canada Bikes, and the National ASRTS Working Group, have offered to lead the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy. This coalition would identify infrastructure funding and policies, design standards to be implemented, and support on-going partnerships and community action.

While the Federal Government has announced significant investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and transportation systems, without a National Active Transportation Strategy, we fear that we will miss the opportunity to maximize the health benefits that could result from these federal investments.

Let your Federal Member of Parliament know that you support the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy by emailing your MP today (Federal MP contact list).

Link to English and French versions of the Letter.

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director, CAPE