Surgeon General’s Warning: Unwalkable Places Are Hazardous to Your Health

Physical activity is essential to people’s health, but dangerous streets and spread-out, sprawling communities prevent Americans from getting enough of it, says the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Murthy issued a call to action this morning to highlight how walking — and building walkable places — can benefit a nation where chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis afflict one in two people. Walking (or wheelchair rolling) is a simple and free way for people to get exercise, said Murthy, and even busy people can work it into their lives by making utilitarian trips on foot.

This isn’t the first time a surgeon general has highlighted the health benefits of walking, but it might be the strongest and clearest call to action of its kind so far.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities this morning. Screenshot from event.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued his Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities this morning.

The surgeon general’s campaign — #StepItUp — says explicitly that the transportation and planning professions should strive to improve public health through design that fosters walking. The first two goals of the call to action are to “make walking a national priority” and to “design communities that make it safe and easy to walk for people of all ages and abilities.”

“Thirty percent of Americans report they do not have sidewalks in neighborhoods,” Murthy said. “We can change that. We can change it by city planners, transportation professionals and local government leaders working together to improve the safety and walkability of neighborhoods for people with all abilities. Community leaders and the law enforcement can work together to make sure that no American is ever unsafe walking out the door.”

He went on:

Where you live today can be an all-too-accurate indicator of how healthy you will be. Health disparities continue to grow in many of our communities. I am particularly concerned about the explosion of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity. They are responsible for seven out of 10 deaths and cost us trillions of dollars every year.

I have cared for many patients who have had chronic illnesses. Many of these illnesses could have been prevented. I sat by the bedsides of these patients. I have talked with them and their families. I have witnessed firsthand the kind of suffering that chronic illness can cause individuals and families.

That is why, when I became Surgeon General, I vowed to take on this epidemic of chronic disease as a central focus of my tenure. It turns out that one of the most powerful things we can do to turn the tide on chronic disease is something we have been doing for millennia. That is walking.

U.S. DOT’s assistant secretary for transportation policy, Carlos Monje, was on hand to plug the GROW AMERICA Act, the administration’s proposal for a long-term transportation bill.

Also of note for people looking for something to listen to on power walks: The surgeon general’s Call to Action comes complete with a Pandora playlist including Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line, Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, and Dire Straits’ Walk of Life.