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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Determinants of Health and the HCC’s Crosstown Connector

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spokespeople_feature-600Brought to you in collaboration with the Ecology Action Centre and Halifax Cycling Coalition, SpokesPeople covers all things cycle-related. From the principles to the potholes, we’re here to examine the realities facing the two-wheeled traveler.

HALIFAX – I must confess: the biggest reason that I became a writer for Spacing Atlantic is a selfish one. I’ve been attending Dalhousie University for the past six years — three of which I’ve spent working on a BSc in Nursing. During this time, I’ve learned many hard facts about the health of Nova Scotians and of Halifax, and I have to admit that I’m more than just a little concerned.

Nearly one in four children in Canada are overweight or obese. Less than 1% of young Nova Scotian women in grade 11 engage in the required amount of physical activity on a weekly basis. Nova Scotia is among the top three provinces with the highest proportional population of people with type 2 diabetes — a completely preventable condition. We have higher than usual rates of specific cancers, and our mental health — and mental healthcare system — is in rough shape (quick note, both of these factors can be prevented to a degree by engaging in physical activity).

Although we are beginning to see an initial crest of the Baby-Boomers in our healthcare institutions — an aggregate that many allege will change our healthcare system to a more tiered or Americanized model — I am personally noticing admittance of young people with weight problems. These same young people have comorbidities such as heart and cardiovascular diseases and joint problems that are common among people in their 70s or 80s. Not only does this create a gigantic fiscal demand on our province (thus limiting investment in other provincial portfolios such as education and environmental preservation), it creates a massive physical burden to the nurses, physiotherapists, personal care assistants and other frontline health practitioners province-wide (thus making my job significantly more difficult).

So how does the planning of public spaces fit in to all this? Over the past couple decades, the Public Health Agency of Canada has learned a great deal about what contributes to our health. In fact, they have narrowed these contributors down to 12 predictors known as the Determinants of Health. There are two specific determinants that I believe have the greatest impact on encouraging people to become physically active: our physical environment and our social environment.

When we look at the physical environment of Halifax in terms of transportation, unless you own a car your mode of transportation is largely ignored. Not only does not facilitating use of active transportation provide us with a less than diverse array of transportation choices (physical environment), it also cognitively and socially reinforces the concept that unless you are in a car, you should not be on the road (social environment). Unless we proactively address Halifax’s lack of physical infrastructure dedicated to encouraging active transportation and active living, our children’s health will continue to deteriorate, and the quality of life of Haligonians will continue to deteriorate.

Cue Halifax’s cycling population! Over the past two months, the Halifax Cycling Coalition has been gathering support to make a gigantic change to Halifax’s transportation diversity through establishing an active transportation corridor on the peninsula. We hope that this corridor — dubbed the Crosstown Connector — will eventually connect to the Bedford highway bike lane, thus also serving sub-urbanites coming in from Bedford, and in some instances, Sackville.

What sort of effect might this have on Haligonians? In many other cities across Canada and around the world evidence indicates that as cycling infrastructure increases, so to does the cycling population of that city. Quality of life also increases, and crime is actually prevented through environmental design. Local businesses will also see a bump in profits as many studies from Toronto, New York and even here in NS indicate that pedestrians and cyclists together constitute a powerful consumer aggregate.

With Halifax in a state of stagnation, and a growing cyclist population that needs to be catered to, the Halifax Cycling Coalition feels that our Crosstown Connector proposal is something that will definitely result in a major positive impact, not only to our city, but it will represent a major step in combating our physically inactive culture.

photo by Emma Feltes



  1. The obesity crisis — and this crisis extends to diabetes, heart disease, cancers, alzheimers, and many other “western” diseases — in the view of a growing many has it’s roots in diet. It is not lack of exercise that makes a person fat; it’s a poor diet. People don’t eat poorly because they are fat; they get fat because they eat poorly. Skinny and healthy people are skinny and healthy because because they exercise more; they are exercising more because they are skinney and healthy. You say “yes but … ” No more buts! They’ve failed. The system as we know it has failed. We’ve been given food guidelines, exercise guidelines, and whatever else guideline we can think of. They’ve all failed. When you look at the statisitics — please do — you’ll find we as a poipulation are more active than we were 50 years ago. We also supposedly eat better. Our fat and meat consumption is down. Yet our waistlines increase.The simple answer is we’ve been wrong about food. And yes, I believe we’ve been terribly off the mark. When you start to look at what’s really bad for you and why — when you start delving into the science — the culprit stands out like a black eye. It is sugar and refined foods: soda, bread, pasta, cakes, donuts, cookies, wraps, you name it. Try walking through any food court and into any restaurant and try to avoid sugar. It’s nearly impossible. Why is it so bad? The answers again are fairly simple and understood by all experts. They increase insulin levels. Insulin is the fat storage hormone. Do the math! And cholesterol? It hurts there too, It actually increases LDL counts via triglycerides and VLDLs while making LDL sizes smaller and more dangerous. Flaws in calculations, the Friedwald which is absed on volume, make it look better than fat, but actual counts show that saturated fats actually improve cholesterol counts and ratios while sugar decimates tham. They don’t teach this in nursing or medical school. Yet!

  2. For sure, John. A provincial study was released with data from 2001 and 2005. The purpose of the study (by and large) was to monitor the activity levels and dietary intake of youths in Nova Scotia. In it, it reveals that youth in NS are consuming considerably less than required amounts of fibre, folate and calcium. It also indicates that 77% of students are failing to meet Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating Recommendations.

    I’m going to have to really break this down because I don’t want to clog the comment-space here: One of the reasons behind the inadequate access to healthy food is related to cost. Whereas Nova Scotian families can reduce costs spent on gasoline (and insurance if they make a full switch) by increasing the use of the bicycle, increasing the amount of practical bike lanes in Halifax (and beyond) could result in better eating habits displayed by youth. Therefor, by implementing more bike lanes and trails in NS, we may loosen up a family’s budget to the point that they will be better able to buy more wholesome foods more often.

    I know I am making very simple and causal links here, but I do believe that increasing our cycling population can result in a better quality of life for Nova Scotian families. It sounds as though you are passionate about food security, John. I encourage you to look up the PACY report (2005). It has a wide array of recommendations that you could definitely pursue to change the health of youth in this province for the better! (thus making my job easier, again!)

  3. Great points, Steve. It’s amazing how many benefits active transportation has, and how inexpensive it is for organizations to encourage cycling.