The Surgeon General has issued this Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities. The call to action is directed both at changing individual behaviors (the choice to walk) as well as changing the environmental conditions and public policy decisions to support those healthier behavioral choices (more sidewalks and walkable open spaces, pedestrian and community safety, accessible stairways in buildings). This is the first public report from the 19th Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was confirmed in December 2014.
Fewer than half of all U.S. adults get enough physical activity to reduce their risk of chronic disease, and only a quarter of high school students get the recommended amount. Physical inactivity contributes to heart and lung disease, diabetes and cancer.
The call to action focuses on walking because it is applicable to the health of people at all ages and stages of life. Walking is the most common activity of teens and adults. It requires no specialized skills or equipment.
However, data consistently show there are safety and accessibility issues that make communities less walkable. A 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, found that 3 out of every 10 Americans reported that no sidewalks existed along any streets in their neighborhood. In many communities violence – and the perception of violence – may prove a barrier to walking.
The Surgeon General calls on community planners and local leaders to create more areas for walking and wheelchair rolling and to prioritize the development of safe routes for children to get to and from schools. The call to action suggests that these designs should include sidewalks, curb cuts, crosswalks, safe crossings for the visually impaired and more green spaces. The Surgeon General further calls on city managers, law enforcement, and community and public health leaders to address safety concerns by better maintaining public spaces, working with residents to promote a shared sense of community ownership, ensuring proper street lighting, and fostering neighborhood watch programs.