Walkability Checklists and Community Health Living Assessments; these were the terms that defined my project throughout my week at Texas. When I first heard these phrases I understood what we would be assessing and I thought that I understood why, but throughout my week in Texas the meaning of these terms really changed for me.
Walkability is not just about the quality of the walking environment in your neighborhood. It is about the multitude of environmental factors that influence an individuals choices regarding health. Similarly, walkability assessments are not just about the quality of sidewalks or presence of sidewalks in your area. The walkability assessments we conducted also measured the safety of the area, the presence of healthy food options, the quality of parks and recreation facilities, and involvement of the community in the area. Poor walkability and a poor physical environment can really have profound impacts on the health of an individual by limiting the healthy options available to members of the community.
Overall, my experience this week made me realize how often I take for granted the fact that I live somewhere that has continuous, well-maintained sidewalks throughout the city. Additionally, there are a large variety of food options in my immediate area and safety is not a major concern, beyond the standard concerns associated with living in a city. The presence of these factors creates an environment that facilitates my ability to make health decisions every day.
In addition, this project partially redefined the way I see environmental health. While I am currently studying environmental health and often consider how the environment directly influences health outcomes, this project overall has made me rethink the role the physical environment plays in our lives. Our environment not only directly impacts our health, but also has major impacts on our health decisions and behaviors.