News / Vancouver

Lack of affordable, walkable neighbourhoods linked to poor health: UBC study

A lack of affordable housing in Metro Vancouver is forcing many residents who want to live in pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods to move to car-dependent areas, which could be negatively affecting their health, according to new research from the University of B.C.

Lead researcher Larry Frank, a professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, said the study’s findings highlight a need for politicians, real estate developers and healthcare providers to work together to bring housing costs down and build more pedestrian-friendly, healthier neighbourhoods.

“Our healthcare costs are going to continue to spiral out of control,” Frank told Metro. “We have a perfect storm in front of us with an aging population, increased chronic disease and people living in sedentary, unwalkable environments.”

For the study, researchers surveyed 1,233 Metro Vancouver residents aged 25 and older on whether they prefer to live in a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood where they can walk to shops, services, green space and transit, or in a neighbourhood they must rely on a car to travel to shops, work or school.

They found 64 per cent of Vancouver residents and 40 per cent of people living in other areas of Metro Vancouver reported a strong desire to live in a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.

While many people prefer to walk, however, the researchers found neighbourhood design influenced their choice of transportation.

Those who live in pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods reported walking 4.8 days a week for transportation, while those who live in car-dependent areas walked 1.4 days a week for transportation.

That could have a negative impact on their health, the researchers found, with people living in car-dependent areas reporting a 21 per cent incidence of high blood pressure, and an 18 per cent incidence of obesity.

Meanwhile, people in pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods reported a lower incidence of high blood pressure at 10 per cent and an eight per cent incidence of obesity.

Frank said the study’s findings highlight the need for more affordable housing in pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods to address rising health care costs.

“Supply and demand are so out of whack,” he said. “Even today, the majority of homes being built in our region are in unwalkable areas.”

Dr. Helena Swinkels, medical health officer for Fraser Health, said the study shows there is "untapped potential" to increase physical activity in Metro Vancouver by ensuring more people have the option to walk, cycle or take transit.

"This study not only shows that neighbourhoods that encourage walking to work and school are good for health, but also that people want to live in these neighbourhoods," said Swinkels.

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