Connecting the Dots: Transportation and Health

By Teresa Roark, TLC Intern, Graduate Student at U of M School of Public Health

Throughout this legislative session, Transit for Livable Communities has been facilitating the Transit for a Stronger Economy coalition. Our coalition’s name emphasizes the positive economic impact of increased transit, but the benefits of public transportation are broad. Not surprisingly, the list of Transit for a Stronger Economy’s 52 member organizations is equally broad, representing a variety of sectors, including public health. Earlier this spring, coalition partner Rachel Callanan, Regional Vice President of Advocacy for the American Heart Association and Chair of the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids coalition testified in favor of increased funding for transit, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements. In her testimony, Callanan made a strong connection between transportation and health. As she emphasized, greater investments in transit and active transportation options are likely to have positive health implications for Minnesotans, while also saving our state money in health care costs.

Lack of physical activity is associated with a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and obesity. The Surgeon General recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Almost half of American adults do not meet this recommendation. But as  Callanan noted, “Increased access to public transportation may provide more opportunities for physical activity as most transit trips begin and end with walking.” In fact, Callanan said, “Public transit users spend an average of 19 minutes daily walking to and from transit. . . . This modest amount is significant enough that it could reduce the obesity epidemic and its related health costs.”

Improved physical health is not just important for individuals who currently don’t exercise. We will all benefit from lower health care costs. Callanan shared research conducted by the American Heart Association that predicts that the “healthcare costs from obesity alone could exceed $861 billion by 2013, which would account for at least 16 percent of U.S. health expenditures.” By acting now and increasing funding for transit, bicycling, and walking, we can prevent this astronomical increase in health care costs.

Transit, bicycling, and walking are good for Minnesota’s economy, but these transportation options are also good for our health. As the diversity of our coalition members reminds us, the potential benefits we will see when the legislature passes a comprehensive transportation funding bill are many—hopefully too many for elected officials to ignore.