Health Prescription: Ride a Bike. Better yet, Ride with Thousands!
Obesity is a major and growing problem worldwide, with the United States being bumped by Mexico out of the dubious position of fattest nation in the Western Hemisphere but the Mideast, South Africa and Britain are closing in. The costs to individuals and society are well known and well documented–from high rates of diabetes to shorter, less rewarding lives.
PAHO (the Pan American Health Organization) is the western hemisphere branch of the World Health Organization. PAHO is considering a set of recommendations to guide the actions of member countries’ Health Ministries on combatting obesity. Donuts and sodas (alright, “nutrient poor and energy dense” foods) are a major target but also urban design that militates against walking and cycling. As the report puts it: “opportunities for physical activity have suffered from poor urban planning and growing violence as well as the perception thereof.”
Ciclovias Recreativas, known as Open Streets in the US, are specifically called out as effective strategies to promote physical activity. Basically, Ciclovias convert streets into people spaces one or two days a week. Currently there are over 400 cities in Latin America hosting these events. They provide safe and secure environments for families to get out and get moving, which is why they are being included in the PAHO recommendation:
“The creation of public spaces such as parks, implementation of open streets programs (ciclovias recreativas), and establishment of rapid public transportation systems are initiatives that promote physical activity.” (Objective 4.1)
Approved by a 9 country Executive Committee, in September the package goes to PAHO’s Directing Council (45 countries and territories in attendance) for consideration. More information is available here.