Visiting professor links architecture, community health
Selena Ponio | Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The state of national public health has been influenced by a surprising factor: the architecture of America’s cities.
Richard J. Jackson, pediatrician and professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, spoke Monday night about the correlation between America’s infrastructure and the diminishing state of health most Americans are experiencing.
Buildings are “agents of health,” he said, and effective urban planning can promote physical, mental and social health.
“Architecture is the hardware of building communities, the software are the festivals and the culture and the programs,” Jackson said. “If you want people to be physically active, you have to create environments that entice them and that support them.”
The fixation on emergency care methods has trumped preventative measures, Jackson said.
“We’ve essentially medicalized environmentally induced diseases … rather than change the environment we’re living in,” Jackson said.
He said the stratification caused by socioeconomic status contributes to obesity and, for many people, obesity is out of their control, as the food deserts in their neighborhood provided them with inadequate and unhealthy food options.
“The more we stratify populations, the less people grow up better equipped for the diversity of the world,” he said. ”Economic diversity is equally important.”
Two factors have had a larger impact than medical care when it comes to increasing life expectancy in the United States, Jackson said.
“We think that medical care is what’s really prolonging life span in the United States, but actually only five years of the 30 years of increased life expectancy can be attributed to medical care and the other 25 years … come from immunization and infrastructure,” Jackson said. “We’re underfunding prevention over and over again.”
Under the category of infrastructure, Jackson said cleaner air, better ventilation and clean water were just a few factors among many that could improve America’s national health, and urban planning must be approached with the intention of designing a city that encouraged its citizens to engage in physical activity, such as walking.
“We have removed 60,000 square miles of photosynthesis just in the United States to meet the needs of cars,” Jackson said. “Every city in America puts huge amounts of money in roadways and lets sidewalks starve. … It’s malpractice for a doctor to tell a patient to go for a walk if there’s no place to walk. It’s malpractice to tell a person to eat healthy if all the healthy food costs five times as much and there’s no way for them to get there to get it.”
After finishing medical school, Jackson said he focused on combining his desire to engage in social issues with his belief that the community could be empowered with science. He said his main fear with public health was that the issue was being dealt with at the end of the pipeline as opposed to the root cause of the problem.
“It is the right time to have a vision,” Jackson said. “I think what’s happening is sustainability and health are now merging, and they are common threads of what we need to be doing.”