Paving the Way to Active, Sensored Streets: Part 1

By | Experts, Healthy Communities, Walking | No Comments

Our guest blogger this week is Sam Piper, Senior Planner, Alta Planning + Design (@altaplanning). Alta Planning + Design designs and implements bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure for cities and institutions. This is Part 1 of 2 blogs by Mr. Piper.

A new study from Imperial College London published in April 2016 had startling findings: “There are now more adults in the world classified as obese than underweight.”

The study, which pooled data from 183 countries, found thatthe number of obese people worldwide had risen from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014”. While the World Health Organization previously set a goal to have no rise in obesity above 2010 levels by 2025, the new research predicts that the probability of reaching this goal is “close to zero.”1

Negative health outcomes and obesity trends have coincided with other major trends. Consider the correlation between the growth in American obesity during a period over which Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) have persistently increased nationwide. In recent years, this trend has halted, with VMT actually decreasing.


alta1This dip has been attributed to a variety of factors, including the Great Recession, the recent growth in urban populations (which for the first time since the 1920s exceeded the growth of suburban areas), a diversification of transportation options (think car share, uber, lyft, and real time transit information) among other factors.

More recent data indicates that VMT growth rates could be shifting to pre-recession rates, and it is yet to be seen if the reduction in driving will last.

Regardless, the growth in obesity levels has steadily increased during this period: “Over the past 35 years, obesity rates have more than doubled. The average American is more than 24 pounds heavier today than in 1960.”

What has attributed to this incessant rise in obesity?

One factor is the fundamental change to the American built environment that has occurred over the past 100 years, which encourages sedentary lifestyles.  At the turn of the 20th century, most people lived in farming communities (60 percent) and worked labor intensive jobs, while 28 percent lived in dense, walkable cities. Relatively few people at this time, about 12 percent, lived in “suburban” areas.2

By 2000, the landscape of America had drastically altered, with the majority of Americans (52 percent) living in sprawling suburban communities designed to move vehicles.

Although correlation is not causation, that our culture is so dependent on the automobile for daily life has impacted, to some degree, our health and our well-being. Most Americans now live in places where it is uncomfortable to walk or bike for most trips, making driving the most viable option for transportation. Multiple data sources indicate that a majority of people, 76 percent (according to 2013 data) drive alone to work.

Cities and states across the country are well aware of the obesity epidemic. As a result, they are working to prioritize bicycling and walking infrastructure development to provide more healthy travel options. Doing so represents an attempt to halt the growth of obesity through transformative tools such as complete streets programs and safe routes to school programs.

Transportation planners and engineers rely on data to develop better infrastructure and to prioritize investments. Longitudinal data on vehicular travel is robust, but equivalent data for walking and bicycling is almost non-existent. The ability to access more robust data helps communities:

  • Determine where investments in walking and biking infrastructure are most needed
  • Assess changes over time, draw conclusions about the impact of new facilities, and improve the design of future facilities
  • Understand crashes involving people walking or bicycling more than is typically possible with crash data alone
  • Quantify the benefits of walking and biking, which ultimately makes active transportation projects more competitive for funding

Fortunately, there are a number of current and emerging technologies that can capture and process non-motorized data efficiently and economically. After researching several of these technologies, Alta Planning + Design, a company that designs and implements bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure for cities and institutions, is excited to announce the publication of the Innovation in Bicycle and Pedestrian Counts white paper.

Learn more about Alta Planning and Design’s findings tomorrow in Part 2.



















[1] 2014 State Indicator Report on Physical Activity. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.

Wednesday is National Running Day

By | Healthy Living, Walking | No Comments

running day blank logoThis Wednesday, June 3rd, is National Running Day, a day for running enthusiasts (nuts?) like me to celebrate our love of the sport and for those who want to start to get out there. The thing I love most about the running community is its acceptance of everyone, whether you run a 5 or 15 minute mile, go out once a week or twice a day, started 20 years ago or 20 days ago. So, if you’re a runner, get out there this Wednesday and celebrate your love of this sport with the community. If you’re not a runner, but think you might want to be, this is the day!

You can find official running day information and groups on Facebook and Twitter. If there’s not one in your city, try a local running club or make your own with some friends. See what your fellow runners are up to by following #RunningDay on the usual .social media platforms.

I’ll be out there for an early morning run with a new running club, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages but somehow always avoid. Here’s to new adventures, whatever they may be!



A Prescription for Activity

By | Healthy Living, Walking | No Comments

This week, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) convened a meeting to address key issues related to establishing a physical activity prescription at every visit as a medical standard of care. Kaiser Permanante’s own Robert Sallis, MD, was in attendance and helped lead a walking break to visit the Supreme Court. You can find a full set of images from the roundtable here.

Dr. Bob Sallis leads a walking meeting to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Sallis leads a walking meeting to the Supreme Court.

There is overwhelming evidence on the health burden of a sedentary lifestyle, and regular exercise has been proven to prevent and treat a wide range of diseases.  For this reason, every health care provider should be assessing the physical activity habits of their patients and recommending they engage in 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (like a brisk walk), which is consistent with the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines.  While it has become a standard of care to ask patients at every visit about smoking and to assess their weight and BMI, exercise is often not routinely assessed.

For this reason, on April 27 and April 28, a roundtable was convened by the American College of Sports Medicine and Kaiser Permanente: A “Call to Action on Making Physical Activity Assessment and Prescription a Medical Standard of Care”.  This was held at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health in Washington, DC, and it was chaired by Robert Sallis, MD, a Kaiser Permanante family physician and chair of the Exercise is Medicine Global Health initiative.  The meeting was attended by individuals representing a range of major medical organizations with a goal of developing a consensus around including physical activity assessment and prescription at each patient visit.  One of the outcomes of the roundtable will be a white paper that outlines a plan to make this happen in the near future.   

What Exactly IS the Trail Modeling & Assessment Platform, and Why Do We Care?

By | Center for Total Health, Community Health Initiatives, Environmental Stewardship, Guest Blogger, Walking | No Comments

Our guest blogger today is Tracy Hadden Loh with the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Tracy Hadden Loh (right) and colleague with the pedestrian counter outside the CTH.

Tracy Hadden Loh (right) and colleague with the pedestrian counter outside the CTH. The counter was installed on one of the coldest days of this winter (high of 10 degrees!).

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a national membership-based nonprofit dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people. We serve as the national voice for more than 160,000 members/supporters, 30,000 miles of rail and multi-use trails, and over 8,000 miles of potential trail. When RTC was founded in 1986, there were less than 250 miles of rail-trail in the United States. Today, there are more than 21,000 miles of trails of serving some tens of millions of people each year.

However, that mileage number is about all we’ve measured with any precision. We don’t actually know how many people in the United States use trails each year. We know that these miles of trail are a great way to create healthier places and healthier people – for example, a recent meta-analysis of published research on the cost-effectiveness of population-level interventions to promote physical activity found that a rail-trail was the #1 most effective intervention. On the basis of similar evidence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize trails as a proven strategy that works to increase physical activity, reduce risk of chronic disease, and improve mental health and wellness. So we know we’re on to something good – but how good? When it comes time to make room for trails in the budget, can we show a dollars-and-cents return on investment?

To that end, RTC has launched the Trail Modeling and Assessment Platform (T-MAP), a three-year research initiative to measure, model, and value trail use in the United States. The first phase of this project involves establishing a national network of trail traffic monitoring stations, so that we can continuously measure trail use across the different climactic zones of the US. We’ll use these data to develop two tools: a trail use demand forecasting model to estimate traffic volumes on existing trails or predict volumes on future trails; and a health impact assessment calculator for estimating health care costs avoided due to physical activity on trails.

Taken literally, RTC’s focus on “health” means that there are times when our mission overlaps with that of hospitals and health care systems. Under the Affordable Care Act, non-profit hospitals are now faced with a requirement to assess the health needs of the community, and based on that assessment draw up an implementation plan. We see that as an opportunity to make the case for trails!

Our partners at the Kaiser Permanante Center for Total Health already get it. Located in the heart of downtown Washington, DC right on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the CTH is helping us implement T-MAP through the installation and maintenance of their very own trail traffic monitoring station, contributing critical data to the project from a unique trail location that is co-located with an urban sidewalk, and dominated by pedestrians. As they learn about how the trail relates to their facility, we’re learning about the trail and collecting the data necessary to accurately estimate the true magnitude of trail use in the United States, and what it’s worth.


Data from the CTH Pedestrian Counter

Data from the CTH Pedestrian Counter | February 15, 2015

Don’t Let the Heat Keep You on the Couch

By | Athletes, Walking | No Comments

For those of us who live in the swamp also known as Washington, DC, hot and humid summer days are nothing out of the ordinary (it’s a special thing when “feels like 90” is a relief after days of “feels like 105!”). Even for veterans of the heat, it can be a convenient excuse to take a day — or two, or three — away from activity.

With seemingly unusual weather patterns hitting the United States this summer, it seems like a good time to share some hot weather exercise tips:

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Not just before you exercise, but during and after, and just in general. Water is  your friend.
  • Exercise early in the morning, or later in the evening (personally, I think the morning is WAY more comfortable and has the benefit of fewer people and cars out).
  • Hit the gym and work out inside, in the glory of air conditioning.
  • Cut back a little (run a shorter route, or bike slower, or take more breaks).
  • Dress for the temperature in wicking materials (with built-in SPF, if you have them) and light colors.
  • Think about location, and opt for a walk, run, or bike on a route with more trees and less sun. Save your track workout for a cooler day (or before sun-up, if it’s a safe area).
  • Don’t forget your sunscreen (this won’t keep you cool, of course, but you should still do it!).
  • Consider hitting the local pool for some laps. Built-in heat relief!
  • Love the sweat. Embrace it as a sign of your hard work, rather than dreading it. Believe it or not, this helps. A lot.

If the heat wave is short, maybe you can take a day or two off, but don’t let the heat keep you on the couch for too long!

Check out these specific tips for runners and bikers, and learn more about heat-related illnesses to keep yourself safe here.



Join the Walking Revolution!

By | Obesity Prevention & Treatment, Video, Walking | No Comments

Regular visitors to the Center for Total Health — or this blog — know that we are big fans of walking.  Our friends at Every Body Walk! have produced fantastic videos about our favorite mode of active transportation, and this one is definitely worth sharing. A 30-minute documentary film that’s guaranteed to get you walking, The Walking Revolution explores the tremendous changes a regular walking routine can make in your life and your community.

Bring Walking Meetings to Your Office!

By | Obesity Prevention & Treatment, Walking, Workforce Health | No Comments

Studies continue to roll in on the health risks of sitting at work all day.  According to the latest update from the BBC, employers in Denmark are required to offer workers the option of a standing desk. And while most studies focus on adults, new research on workers of the future aims to see whether children can benefit from standing lessons.  Research suggests a combination of sitting and standing meetings may be a healthier solution.  Add walking meetings to the mix and the potential benefits expand. CBS news recently visited the Center for Total Health and filed the following story on the growing popularity of walking meetings.

Can you benefit from standing desks or walking meetings? Check out the BBC video here and many more resources on healthy meetings from Kaiser Permanente.

Transportation Techies Meet at CTH

By | Center for Total Health, Health Innovation, Walking | No Comments
Capital Bikeshare at the CTH

Obligatory Walking Wall Shot – Capital Bikeshare

Thanks to all who attended the Transportation Techies Meet Up at the Center for Total Health tonight, and special thanks to organizers Michael Schade and Tom Fairchild. Michael started this Meet Up just four months ago to meet other (self-described) “data nerds” who love transportation.

Presentations ranged from uber-technical to practical to futuristic, but all looked to data to improve transportation. Learning where people walk, bike, and ride (metro or bus) can help planners, architects, and residents make informed decisions.

If you’re interested, check out their meet up calendar – there’s lots going on in the coming months!

Special thanks to Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit and Innovation & Advanced Technology teams, who made tonight possible. 


Photo of the Week: Talking About Walking

By | Center for Total Health, Walking | No Comments

Despite the snow storm that hit the Washington area overnight, a planned meeting of Everybody Walk!  went on (mostly) as planned today at the Center for Total Health. We were pleased to welcome Jonah Berger  as a special guest speaker. A little snow didn’t stop this dedicated group!

Jonah Berger leads a breakout today at the Center for Total Health.

Jonah Berger leads a breakout today at the Center for Total Health.

A little snow couldn't keep the Everybody Walks! crew from convening.

A little snow couldn’t keep the Everybody Walks! crew from convening.

Since its launch in 2011, the Every Body Walk! campaign has gained real footing — and the numbers bear that out: Its official website has had more than 1.3 million visits, the mobile app has been downloaded more than 165,000 times, its short films have had more than 300,000 views, and the campaign has more than 30,000 followers on Twitter. The awareness the campaign is raising supports the ultimate goal of a walking revolution.

See the full set of photos here.

The Way to Healthy Living: ‘Collective Resolve’ for a ‘Global Revolution’

By | Blog & Bloggers, Health, Healthy Communities, Obesity Prevention & Treatment, Walking | No Comments

The World Economic Forum today published a powerful blog post authored by Raymond J. Baxter, senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy at Kaiser Permanente.  In it, he talks about the obesity and inactivity epidemics in the United States and the chronic conditions they can cause – as well as what they cost us at home and across the globe.

“Indeed, we know that chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, coronary artery disease and depression account for 75% of the nearly $3 trillion we spend on healthcare every year in the United States alone,” Baxter writes in his blog post.  “Worldwide, these conditions are projected to cost our global economy a staggering $47 trillion per year.”

While acknowledging the role of personal responsibility in improving an individual’s health, Baxter points out that chronic conditions hit minorities and the poor the hardest.  These are communities where fresh, healthy food options aren’t available, and where safety determines whether or not someone chooses to go for a walk or if kids can play outside.  He writes:

“When high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar, low-nutrition, cheap, packaged snacks from a tiny corner store are convenient; when watching television behind locked doors is the safest, easiest choice; when cheap tobacco and alcohol are readily available to “ease” the stress of a toxic environment, that becomes an infectious lifestyle that breeds chronic health conditions.”

Luckily, change is afoot.  Baxter describes the Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) Cities Campaign – a partnership between the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the League of California Cities to increase the availability of healthy food and encourage physical activity.  The goal of the campaign is simple, yet profound:  Make the healthy choice the easy choice.

“Personal responsibility is certainly central to improving individual health,” says Baxter. “But collective resolve can be the catalyst that sparks a global revolution to place healthy living at the heart of every individual, family and community…”

Read Baxter’s post in its entirety at the WEF blog.