Canada: Exposure to pollution can offset health benefits of walkable neighbourhoods, study finds - PressFrom - Canada
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CanadaExposure to pollution can offset health benefits of walkable neighbourhoods, study finds

15:25  25 june  2019
15:25  25 june  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Exposure to pollution can offset health benefits of walkable neighbourhoods, study finds © CARLOS OSORIO Dylan Reid, co-founder of Walk Toronto, noted that the study underscores a seemingly “impossible situation” by showing how walking and cycling can expose you to more pollutants when, simultaneously, pollutants decrease if people choose not to drive.

While walkable neighbourhoods have beneficial health effects for its inhabitants, those benefits are reduced significantly by exposure to air pollution, a new study finds.

The study, published by St. Michael’s Hospital, finds that several features of walkable neighbourhoods — high population density, nearby shops and services, proximity to thoroughfares and vehicle-heavy areas — could potentially offset some of the benefits associated with neighbourhoods where residents are more likely to walk or cycle rather than drive.

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And while this doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy to live in a walkable neighbourhood, it means the benefits can be less, if not entirely non-existent.

The findings challenge the notion that living in walkable neighbourhoods is enough to improve the health and well-being of Canadians.

Using a sample of nearly 2.5 million adults from 15 Ontario municipalities, Toronto included, the study finds that, overall, people living within the most walkable neighbourhoods had a 6 per cent chance of being diabetic — a 3 per cent lower risk than those living within the least walkable neighbourhood — but that number could increase to as much as 15 per cent depending on air pollution.

“The message here is really that walkable neighbourhoods are good, but air pollution erodes some of that benefit, and by the time you get to polluted neighbourhoods, you really don’t see much benefit of whether it was a walkable neighbourhood at all,” said Nicholas Howell, a PhD student at the University of Toronto and the study’s lead researcher.

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He said that the researchers looked at records of individuals’ health care use — for example, if someone had been to a doctor and diagnosed with hypertension or diabetes, as well as the neighbourhoods these individuals lived in at the time of their diagnosis.

“People in walkable neighbourhoods, downtown neighbourhoods like in Toronto, tend to be more active, tend to be less likely to be overweight or obese, and they’re less likely to develop health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes,” he said.

In 2014, Toronto Public Health estimated that air pollution resulted in approximately 1,300 deaths and 3,500 hospitalizations per year.

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Dylan Reid, co-founder of Walk Toronto, said the study should encourage all levels of governments to reduce air pollution by increasing walkability, and shouldn’t discourage Torontonians from walking or cycling instead of driving.

“The federal government needs to make the regulations that are necessary, whether it’s through a carbon tax or vehicle emissions standards, to reduce air pollution, while the province and city need to create public transit that offers a plausible alternative to driving and make walking and cycling more attractive options.”

He noted that the study underscores a seemingly “impossible situation” by showing how walking and cycling can expose you to more pollutants when, simultaneously, pollutants decrease if people choose to walk or cycle rather than drive.

“It’s really important, when you look at a study like this, to see that the solution is a long-term solution that gets more people walking and cycling, more people taking transit, and reducing the amount of cars used,” he said. “It takes more work, but it’s a better solution.”

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“When we’re pushing (walkability) initiatives, we want to take into account other factors in the environment, like air pollution to make sure those neighbourhoods are as healthy as possible,” said Howell. “You would hate to generate a very walkable neighbourhood that was polluted, then you don’t get those health benefits that you were hoping for.”

With files from Temur Durrani

Emma Sandri is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @emmarosesandri

Jacob Lorinc is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @jacoblorinc

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