While not traditionally discussed in health policy circles, transportation is a key determinant of health outcomes. Transportation policies affect more than the just the ways that people travel, but influence the distribution of goods and services, exposures to pollution, opportunities for physical activity, and other health related matters.
Communities that lack good transportation systems face many barriers to good health, including:
- Poor access to health care institutions, pharmacies, and grocery stores;
- Unsafe conditions for physical activities such as walking and bicycling;
- Harmful exposures from diesel fumes and noise pollution;
- Social and economic isolation
Low income and rural communities are disproportionately harmed by poor transportation systems, leading in part to health disparities.
Massachusetts’s new transportation reform law provides a fresh opportunity for the state to make critical connections between transportation policy and health. The law establishes a “healthy transportation compact”, convening Health and Human Services and Transportation leaders to develop health supportive policies and practices. The compact will also institute a health impact assessment for use by planners, transportation administrators, and developers. These provisions have great potential for helping Massachusetts build healthier and more equitable communities.
As the state continues implementation of health care reform and works towards the elimination of health disparities, it must also engage non traditional stakeholders in strategies to improve the public health. Interventions in sectors such as transportation create a more comprehensive “health reform” agenda, addressing barriers outside of the health care system that impact health and wellness.
For more information on healthy transportation, download “The Transportation Prescription”, a new report published by PolicyLink and the Prevention Institute.