Did you know that between 16 and 33% of teens in the U.S. are considered obese? Part of the reason is not enough physical activity. How do I know? I’m one of them.
My mom and I moved from the city to a subdivision in the suburbs a few years ago so she could be closer to work and we could live in a nicer neighborhood, an environment created for families. Growing up, I realized it wasn’t kid friendly like my grandmother’s house in the city –where I could walk or had access to the “green limousine” (what everyone else calls public transportation) to get around in the city. In the suburbs, my mom has to drive me to get to school, practice or the mall. This is called sprawl because everything is so spread out that there isn’t much choice but to use an automobile to get around.
The combination of un-pedestrian friendly towns or neighborhoods and less physical activity contributed to the rise in obesity, diabetes and asthma. We’re living “large” but it’s taking a toll! Some of us are struggling to fit into prom dresses this spring! Let’s face it; we build our communities in ways that discourage daily physical activity like walking and bicycling. I didn’t think I had much of a choice and neither did many of my friends.
But we do.
Town governments and planners call it smart growth. Growth is “smart” when new development gives us great communities, with more choices, personal freedom and diversity. When communities choose smart growth, they can create new neighborhoods and maintain existing ones that are convenient and healthy. Public transportation is more readily available to use, but walking is also convenient. When a community is designed to be easier to get around, people can more easily incorporate and encourage social and physical activity. It also reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions because people can choose to walk, bike, or take public transportation instead of drive. Most of all, we can create more choices for kids, families, and older adults. These choices include where to live, how to interact with the people around them and how to get around!
If it was easier to walk to school or travel to the mall instead of having my mom drive me, we’d save on gas and I wouldn’t have to think about fitting into my prom dress. Smart growth is good for our health and our carbon footprint.
Gabriella is a senior at Wheaton Warrenville High School in Illinois. She’ll be attending SIU next fall to major in environmental forensics science.