Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Public Health

An Orszag-ian Principle: Transportation Reform is Health Reform

During the Washington budget debate earlier this year, a phrase widely attributed to White House budget director Peter Orszag was rolling off many a reporter's keyboard: "Health reform is entitlement reform."

Orszag's idea, in a nutshell, is that controlling the nation's skyrocketing health care costs, which are fueled in part by the obesity epidemic, would ultimately slow the growth in spending on Medicaid and Medicare, two of the government's three main entitlement programs.

What's happening in the background during Congress' health care debate this summer can be summed up similarly (with credit to Orszag for the terminology): Transportation reform is health reform.

The link between walkable, bikeable, denser communities and public health is explored in depth by reporter Christopher Steiner, whose new book cites research by University of North Carolina economist Charles Courtemanche that found a causal relationship between the price of gas and U.S. obesity.

For every long-term $1 increase in gas prices, the national obesity rate drops by 10 percent, according to Courtemanche. That relationship goes a long way towards explaining why the House and Senate health care bills include "community transformation" grants to entice cities and towns into building bike paths, playgrounds, and other pedestrian-friendly improvements.

The grants are not assured of surviving the intense health care negotiations now going on in the Capitol, however, because they have become a full-fledged talking point for GOP critics in the House and Senate.

With congressional transportation wonks are focusing much of their energy on the battle over reauthorizing federal transport programs and the climate change bill, but it's worth noting that they also have a dog in the health care fight.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Friday’s Headlines Go Back to the Future

If you liked the first Trump administration's transportation policies, you're going to love the second Trump administration's transportation policies.

July 19, 2024

Advocates Share What It Takes to Fight Highway Expansions in Court 

What does it take to sue your state DOT? Time, money, the right partners, and a little creativity, a recent survey of activists found.

July 19, 2024

Friday Video: Paris Does it Again

Come for the bike-friendly streets, but stay for adopt-a-tree program and all the car-free school roadways.

July 19, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: IrrePLACEable

Kevin Kelley on his book Irreplaceable: How to Create Extraordinary Places that Bring People Together, and the future of downtowns.

July 18, 2024

This Heat Wave is a Car Dependency Problem

Our quickly warming planet has a unique impact on people who don't or can't drive — and we need policy action to protect their health.

July 18, 2024
See all posts