Here are five tips to nurturing health in your neighborhood:
1. Start with your youth. If you're going to spur sweeping cultural change, your best bet is to start with kids, Jackson says, noting that adults tend to be more set in their ways. The move toward healthier school lunches, for example, found greater success with elementary school kids than with high schoolers, he says. "Every sensible person would agree that children need to be in healthy environments, need to have healthy food, need to be able to explore the world that they're in" for proper development. Additionally, "schools need to be health centers," that measure kids for fitness and ensure proper nutrition, Jackson says."Very few adults would want to eat what is supplied in a school cafeteria in America."
2. Rethink your transportation options."Half of the trips that Americans take are under three miles, so those are actually a lot of trips that we could think about taking by other means," says Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, a coalition promoting safe, affordable neighborhoods, among other things. For example, some people have begun to employ the "granny cart" to let them do their grocery shopping by foot. "Nobody has to move or create a new community," says Anderson.
3. But if you do move, consider your lifestyle. Factor into your decision, for example, the nearby amenities and available transportation options. "Basically every public transportation trip starts and ends with a walking trip," Anderson says. "When you have public transportation, you invariably have walking." And that's good. For example, a study of residents using a new light-rail system in Charlotte, N.C., found that over the course of one to two years, they lost an average of 6.45 pounds and reduced their risk of obesity by 81 percent. "Less-vigorous forms of physical activity are more likely to be sustained over time, making it easier to meet exercise goals through the promotion of walking as a basic change in one's daily routine," according to the 2010 report, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
4. "Complete the neighborhood." Galina Tachieva, author of Sprawl Repair Manual and a partner with the architecture firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, which is steeped in the principles of new urbanism, spoke to U.S. News from Utah, where she was attending a workshop to convert a mall into a town center to achieve that desirable mixed-use, accessible environment. That's one approach to revamping where you live. But Tachieva also recommends small-scale solutions to "complete the neighborhood." For example, she suggests a cul-de-sac makeover—turn it into a "neighborhood center" with a post office, restaurant, hair salon, and recycling center, where artisans could create crafts and profit. This hub could also host residences for seniors to age in place.
5. Use your power. Press for improvements through your local governing boards and home associations. Adding sidewalks and bike lanes, for example, are relatively inexpensive ways to make a big improvement, according to Anderson. Ultimately, Jackson says, healthy communities will come about through "professional expertise and the wisdom of the community."
[See: 10 Healthy Summer Vacations]