Boston Children’s Hospital pediatrician Aaron Bernstein thinks he has the secret to better health. The Harvard Medical School professor explains to Deborah Blackwell that making lifestyle changes — in transportation, our eating habits, and our energy consumption — will result in immediate health benefits:
With the exception of smoking, poor diet and air pollution are the two leading drivers of disease across the world, according to Bernstein. Air pollution kills millions of people every year. Particulate matter —hazardous particles such as soot, smoke, and exhaust suspended in the air — are deadly, he said. In the U.S., particulate matter comes from burning fuels, especially fossil fuels, and in places like Boston much of it comes from burning gas and diesel.
Bernstein said people need to turn off their engines. “Stopping the use of fossil fuels emitted from cars will generate tremendous public health advances,” he said. “Car risks to health are not just about accidents and the air quality burdens they create. It’s also about the sedentary lifestyles they promote.”
Walking and bicycling decrease mortality, he said, while too much sitting contributes to poor health. Active people not only live longer, research shows that physical activity leads to greater productivity, happiness, and improved overall health.
Dr. Bernstein isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know; the food we eat and the air we breathe are huge factors that help determine how healthy or unhealthy we are. Getting more exercise doesn’t hurt, either. He is also concerned, like pediatricians everywhere, about the ongoing and stubborn epidemic of child obesity:
Combined with lifestyle is diet — another crucial component in the sustainability movement. Nearly a third of the world’s population is now overweight, and an estimated 641 million are obese — an increase of 105 million people since 1975, according to a study published in the Lancet in 2014. The study estimated there will be 1.1 billion obese people by 2025.
Obesity is proven to increase risks for cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and other diseases. Especially worrisome to Bernstein is the skyrocketing incidence of obesity in children.
“If a child is obese by age 10, they are very likely to be affected for life,” he said. “That’s a really big deal.”
Lowering our carbon footprint, individually and collectively, by making healthy lifestyle changes while at the same time encouraging the rapid transition to clean renewable energy will make us healthier in the short term and go a long way in helping solve another critical crisis:
“If we do what we need to do to address energy, transportation, and food systems for our health,” he said, “we will actually help get climate change fixed at the same time.”
Seems like a win-win-win (on health-pollution-climate change) to me.