Conference combines urban planning with health policy

In the future, it may be possible to improve disease conditions such as obesity and diabetes by changing the way neighborhoods and communities are planned.

Designing areas that allow for easy walking and biking, as well as access to fresh, healthful foods may improve the health and the economic status of its residents. 

The economic benefits of designing healthy communities is the focus of this year’s Capital Area Planning Conference. The day-long conference will be held Oct. 30 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Monona Terrace. Registration is $40.

Now in its second year, the conference is organized by Capital Region Sustainable Communities (CRSC), a partnership of local government planning entities, local businesses and non-profit groups.  The conference aims to reach a wide, intersecting audience - government officials, architects, planners and builders, community based organizations and members of local communities.

Bridgit Van Belleghem, one of the primary organizers of the conference, says building communities that emphasize mobility and access to healthy food, brings about a greater return on investment than traditional subdivisions.

Cities can achieve this in part by incorporating a focus on health into all development policies, from community plans to zoning ordinances. When individuals live a healthy lifestyle to begin with, the costs of hospitalizations and running treatments can go down in the long run.

“In 2010 the county (Dane) saw about $204 million expended on diabetes hospitalizations,” Van Belleghem said. “Diabetes is a preventable disease (in most cases). So we are causing that either by creating places where people can’t walk around and feel energized, or by creating ‘food deserts’ where people can’t get fresh food or cook fresh food.” 

This “health in all policies” model is used in Kane County, Ill, just outside of Chicago. Officials from the local department of health will present on their experience implementing the model.

The conference also features speakers from UW Health, representing the Coalition for Obesity Prevention (Dane County), who will talk about “participatory photo mapping.”  Members of a community can participate in improving the health status of their neighborhoods, by photographing areas that are serve as barriers to their mobility. For instance, areas where residents cannot cross the street or where parents cannot walk with a stroller. They may also identify “food deserts,” says Van Belleghem; areas where there is no access to healthy food.

As a part of its goal to create conversation and initiate action, the conference will also host a ‘Lightning Round’ where the goals developed by the CRSC over the past few years will presented.  Conference attendees can participate and give feedback.

Van Belleghem sees the conference as a point where those have the power to make decisions merge with those who are impacted by those decisions.

“Our goal is to get all this (information) out there and hope that people will run with it,” she said.


"Diabetes is a preventable

"Diabetes is a preventable disease (in most cases)." Liar! A 20-year randomized controlled study of diet and exercise in 577 adults with impaired glucose tolerance claimed that those in the combined lifestyle intervention groups had a 51% lower incidence of diabetes during the active intervention, a similar figure, and a 43% lower incidence over 20 years. But, "The average annual incidence of diabetes was 7% for intervention participants versus 11% in control participants, with 20-year cumulative incidence of 80% in the intervention groups and 93% in the control group." And, "There was no significant difference between the intervention and control groups in the rate of first CVD events (HRR 0.98; 95% CI 0.71-1.37), CVD mortality (0.83; 0.48-1.40), and all-cause mortality (0.96; 0.65-1.41)." 80% versus 93% is less than impressive "prevention." But this is all that their trumpeted lower incidence amounted to!

And the recent randomized controlled study of weight loss and exercise which flopped so resoundingly at preventing heart disease in 5145 overweight diabetics that they called it off. (Cardiovascular Effects of Intensive Lifestyle Intervention in Type 2 Diabetes. The Look AHEAD Research Group N Engl J Med 2013;369:145-154.)