The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, headed by First Lady Michelle Obama, released a new report and action plan to end childhood obesity in a generation. The report follows closely on the heels of the CDC’s Transportation Recommendations and the National Physical Activity Plan, both released in recent weeks.
In Chapter V: Increasing Physical Activity (.pdf), the Task Force discusses the important role of the built environment in encouraging active lifestyles. We’re especially excited by Recommendation 5.8, which specifically calls for a federal Complete Streets policy:
A complete network of safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities would allow children to take more trips through active transportation and get more physical activity. New Federal aid construction projects should accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians by incorporating “Complete Streets” principles. As improvement projects for existing facilities are undertaken, transportation infrastructure should be retrofitted, where feasible, to support and encourage bicycle and pedestrian use. State and local money can also be leveraged to support safe facilities for children to walk or bike to places like parks, playgrounds, transit, and community centers. The reauthorization could adopt Complete Streets principles that would include routine accommodation of walkers and bicyclists for new construction, to influence retrofitting of existing communities, and to support public transportation. In addition, it could enhance authority for recreational areas on public lands.
As a benchmark of success, the report looks to increase by 50% the percentage of children ages 5-18 walking and bicycling to school by 2015 – meaning nearly 20% of all children would walk or bike to school. Other recommendations include continuing and enhancing the federal Safe Routes to School program, including expanding the program to include high schools; developing school siting guidelines that consider whether students will be able to walk or bike to school; encouraging the use of Health Impact Assessments; and generally encouraging active transportation between school, home, and other community destinations.
The next step is to turn the recommendations into action. Many partners, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, are ready to move forward with the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, and we’ll continue to advocate for a strong Complete Streets policy in the transportation reauthorization bill.