Washington’s transportation system is the backbone of our economy, shaping nearly every aspect of our daily lives, including our health. We have a responsibility to build a transportation system that generates local prosperity, protects our most vulnerable populations, prevents chronic disease and reduces obesity while providing everyone with the freedom to safely get where they need to go.
We definitely shouldn’t build a transportation system that increases obesity, makes us sick and costs our state billions of dollars in preventable health care costs. But that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the last 60 years.
The research is clear, and it’s just common sense: How we build our transportation system impacts our health. For decades we have engineered opportunities for physical activity out of our transportation system, contributing to a startling rise in rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and chronic health conditions related to air pollutants.
The rate of obesity in Washington has doubled over the past 15 years, with more than one-quarter of adults now obese, while more than one-quarter of our kids are overweight or obese.
Our state spends well over $1 billion on obesity-related health care costs every year. More than half of Washingtonians suffer from at least one medical condition that is made worse by air pollution.
For years I worked in family medicine and saw firsthand the negative consequences of our failure to consider health in our transportation decisions. It made my blood boil to see young children in my office who obviously do not get the exercise they need because our transportation decisions denied them that basic opportunity. They faced serious, costly and preventable problems developing later in their lives because they were overweight.
Right now, Washington doesn’t officially consider the consequences of our transportation decisions on our health. Despite the clear and powerful connection between how we build our transportation system and our health, our state’s six existing goals for our transportation system do not include health. It doesn’t have to be this way.
HB 2370 would integrate health considerations into transportation policy, planning and investments. This has the potential to save lives, improve health and safety, and reduce preventable health care costs by creating active transportation opportunities that prevent chronic diseases, improve air quality and reduce obesity.
It will allow us to measure the impacts of our transportation decisions on our health and help us make wise transportation investments that will save billions of dollars in preventable health care costs.
HB 2370 will help ensure that Washington’s transportation systems connect people to where they live, learn, work, shop and play by providing safe and convenient transportation choices. A new health goal will also help the state develop solutions that can help achieve social and economic equity in all communities with policies that create public and nonmotorized transportation options for transit-dependent and low-income communities.
Washington has a proud history of transportation innovation and creativity. We built the planes that helped win World War II and bridges that stretch the imagination, operate the world’s largest ferry system, keep critical roads open through punishing winter weather and are poised to build the world’s largest deep-bore tunnel.
Now it’s time for Washington to lead the nation by demonstrating that if we set the right goals, we can build a transportation system that improves our health, saves money, and makes our communities better and safer places to live.
Please join me in supporting HB 2370 and a healthier future for Washington.
Jane Moore, M.D., is the executive director of the Tacoma-based Washington Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity.