The editorial that appears in the Northern Life on Feb 6, 2010 by Dr. Peter Zalan, president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North, talks about prevention vs reaction in fighting disease and promoting good health. There are some notable statements in the article:
“The United Nations published a report in September 2011 on the prevention and control of the major causes of human illness and death; namely, cardiovascular and chronic obstructive lung disease, cancer and diabetes.
These are firmly linked to tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, and lack of physical activity. It is of double concern that the incidence of obesity, unhealthy diets and inactivity are rising among our children and youth.”
We have known for quite a while now that the above statement is true. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that lack of physical activity is a problem for many people, especially in the richer nations. In fact, there are now the same amount of people in the world who are overweight as there are those who are malnourished – a staggering statistic!
Dr. Zalan goes on to talk about what we, and our governments, can do to change this trend.
“In 2009, Canada spent $190 billion on health care, the single biggest sector of spending in the country. Six per cent went to fund public health and health promotion. Sixty per cent went to fund hospitals, drugs and physicians.
So here’s the puzzle. There is general agreement that preventing a disease is more satisfactory than curing it. Then why are governments investing large amounts of resources in the attempt to cure, and small amounts in the attempt to prevent?
The answer is that governments are afraid of our displeasure. The public’s expectations are very high, expecting the latest and best drugs and technologies to be available as soon as they are described on the Internet.
Disappointing those expectations means loss of votes. Trying to meet those expectations consumes energy and resources. Year after year, there is little left of either energy or resources for other initiatives.
As a society, we are not living within the truth. We blame governments, even though they reflect our values. We have not admitted that the principle of a right to certain public services without definable limits, when enacted as law, constitutes the writing of a blank check that no society can ultimately afford.
Are we willing to embrace the truth and examine our values?”
I think it’s time that the Regional Municipality of Sudbury local government and its citizens examine their values in promoting good health in this city. We have some truths that we need as a society to examine closely.
Do we really want to continue to spend obscene amounts of money to encourage and increase the use of motor vehicles as a primary source of transportation? Do we instead want to create opportunities for citizens to use alternative methods of transportation that combat inactivity – like cycling and walking. And that cost significantly less than owning cars, or using cars for every small trip.
Do we want to abandon the nay-saying attitude that is expressed in many comments to local newspaper articles, all of which criticize and insult those who make different choices like cycling – those citizens are taxpayers too and are only asking for a level playing fields for their taxes.
Do we want to change the mindset of many of our citizens who justifiably say they will never cycle in Sudbury because it’s too dangerous to be on the road here. Do we want to get our citizens more active? If so, then we need to build infrastructure that will make all citizens, including children, feel safe when cycling on our streets.
Do we want to invest in sustainable modes of transportation that will ultimately save money for taxpayers and budgets? And for the record, I own a car, and I use it – mainly during the cold winter snaps, and for long trips. But I cycle and walk too – I walk year round and cycle usually from start of April to end of November.
I’ve seen some hints that the city is finally looking at what needs to be done to drag it into the “real” world. It is looking at implementing sustainable initiatives already in place in many cities of comparable size, with comparable landscapes (yes, San Francisco and Montreal have lots of hills too!), and with comparable weather (many Canadian cities have more snow and longer winters than we do, with more cycling infrastructure in place).
But waiting for plans to be finalized and passed by Council so we can start to effect change in 2014 or even later is not the way to go. The city needs to take the initiative and lead in changing attitudes. It needs to make the commitment towards funding cycling and pedestrian initiatives, not as small parts of huge projects, but as ongoing, automatic funding allocated each year that expands cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
This year’s budget has $35,000 directed towards cycling infrastructure – a measly amount that won’t get very far in correcting the sustainable deficiencies that currently exist on our roads. Instead it is allocating a good part of its yearly $471 million (2011 budget) dollars to building, altering and maintaining roads so more smelly and expensive cars can speed through town to get its one to two occupants to a destination and back – in the least amount of time possible – therefore encouraging road rage and accidents.
The Sudbury Cyclists Union asked the city a few years ago through its 3% roads campaign, to allocate more money to building infrastructure that provides healthier and safer alternatives to motor vehicles. You can do the math – the $35,000 is but a pacifying attempt to quiet those who have been asking for more dollars spent on sustainable transportation.
And by the way – who decided on the priorities for the $35,000? Did any of the cycling organizations provide input or recommendations? What we DON’T want to see is more decisions like the sharrows on Regent St, which start nowhere, go nowhere, are painted in the fall, with no accompanying signage or public education campaigns, and which are definitely not the highest priority, nor even the best type of cycling infrastructure to put in place there.
We will continue to lobby local government to be visionaries and leaders. If you care at all about sustainability, a good lifestyle, and options other than cars, let your local councillor know! Or provide input to the various plans that have been presented in the last few weeks – see our posts on the Transportation Study, the 2012 Official Plan, and the Draft Downtown Master Plan.
Link to Dr. Zalan’s article: http://www.northernlife.ca/news/columns/zalan/07-ounce-prevention-sudbury.aspx