See the future more clearly: The first was learning of the huge projected increases in rates of diabetes, cancer, mental illness and obesity. By 2030, we will see a 13 per cent rise in obesity, a 40 per cent rise in new cancer cases, a 41 per cent rise in diabetes prevalence, and a 200 per cent cost increase for mental illness.
Design for it today: The second was learning that the most important determinant of health is where you live. This means that lower-income individuals and families, who are already at a significant disadvantage, have it even harder when it comes to health. But what was heartening about the research is that if we design built environments the same way in lower-income neighbourhoods as we do in higher-income neighbourhoods, most of the differences in health outcomes between lower- and higher-income people… disappear!
As an engineer, I’d never appreciated the extent to which the details in our designs affect physical and mental health. As we begin to introduce these concepts to our planners, engineers and other designers of the built environment at WSP, I hope that these best practices will spread throughout the wider industry and become part of the curricula in universities and schools.
As planners, engineers, architects and landscape architects, we have at our fingertips these powerful tools to help reverse trends in cancer, diabetes, mental illness and obesity. To save the Canadian government billions of dollars in healthcare costs and improve the mental and physical health of Canadians, we just need two things: an awareness of how to do it, and more resources to shift from treatment to prevention.