How can design make a difference in our communities and improve the health of our population at the same time? This sentiment is not something we have all been thinking about due to the global pandemic, rather it has been an area of interest for decades. Nonetheless, as mentioned in the first installment of this blog series, COVID-19 is an accelerator and catalyst for change. So can we be the generation that makes the difference?
Looking at the general conditions in our communities, we can see a wide variety of problems, such as food deserts resulting in poor nutrition, lack of affordable housing, and disproportionate access to care, along with an increase in addictions, a increased needs for behavioral health and a sedentary lifestyle: generating unhealthy cohorts within a population. With between 10 and 20 percent of a person’s health driven by the quality of health care, as noted in several studies and highlighted in a 2017 paper “Social Determinants of Health 101 for Health Care: Five Plus Five” at the National Academy of Medicine, we should look beyond the walls of the hospital to seek to improve our health.
A lot of attention has been paid to COVID-19 over the last year, and for good reason. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, “Interim Mortality Data – United States, 2020,” states that of the total deaths in the US last year, 690,000 were from heart disease, 598,000 were from cancer, and 345,000 were related to COVID-19. According to an investigation by Ultimate healthOf the more than 1.3 million COVID-19 claims, 76 percent of those cases were exacerbated by comorbidity. We could deduce that a number less than 345,000 was a direct result of the COVID-19 virus. And yet it has changed our lives forever. How much more of an impact could we, as a society, have in trying to eliminate the other diseases and conditions that are driving up health care costs and keeping the US very low on the list of? quality health outcomes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, “Economic and Health Costs of Chronic Diseases”, the main chronic diseases affecting health in our communities include heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even tooth decay. Of the top eight identified in the report, many are considered preventable. As a society, we need to make a change to take responsibility for our own health and focus resources where the greatest impact can occur. As designers, we can have a positive impact by encouraging better healthy behaviors for those who use the buildings and venues we design and by guiding clients to make decisions that will help them see the social benefit of investing in the health of the community.
Priority one is creating a movement with purpose. As designers, we can encourage movement by placing programs and designing spaces to choreograph a physical response. A. paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology appointment that replacing sitting with 30 minutes of activity a day will help a person live a longer, healthier life by 17 percent. According to studies According to the National Institute of Health, people in communities that encourage walking and cycling within the normal course of their routine have better overall health compared to communities that require motorized transportation. Designers’ response should be to do more to create solutions that encourage movement and connect spaces and programs so that users can experience health and wellness.
Going one step further, what if all of our major needs could be met within 15 minutes of a walk, a bike ride, or public transportation? Rather than segregating different neighborhoods or zones for activities, approaches that combine economic and social functions in a more compact urban footprint would drive a more connected and vibrant community. For healthcare, this would resemble a larger decentralized community health network compared to a single hospital. In the article, “The 15-minute city, without the need for cars, is the new utopia of urban planning, in BloombergCarlos Moreno, special envoy of the mayor of Paris for the development of smart cities, says that the idea of the “15-minute city” was generated mainly to reduce carbon emissions, however he hopes to make Paris a “city of proximity” , where all aspects of life can come together in cozy and safe streets and squares.
While a more sustainable community is good for the planet, it can also affect the health of the population. The World Health Organization estimates that 24 percent of deaths in the world are due to environmental problems, such as climate change, which affects a community’s ability to have clean air, clean water, food and shelter safety. Finding strategies that show environmental stewardship, creating regenerative and ecological solutions that can clean the air, sequester carbon or produce energy are ways to protect the environment and at the same time make the community healthier.
What is clearer than ever is that we must work together to help build stronger and healthier communities.
Jim Henry, AIA, NCARB, is senior vice president and chief health officer at CallisonRTKL. He can be contacted at Jim.Henry@crtkl.com. In this series, you will explore how accelerating change is rapidly shaping our healthcare systems, built environments, and ways of thinking when it comes to safe and healthy design.
Read past installments here:
Accelerate change: open to new ideas
Using telemedicine to increase access to healthcare