Every year nearly 12 million U.S. households pull up stakes and head for a new campsite. Although these moves may be primarily motivated by other reasons â€” foreclosure, job loss or transfer, desire for a better home â€” families with children usually think long and hard about how their move will affect their children. How will the kids deal with the change? Will they make new friends? And most of all, what school will they go to?
One question you probably wonâ€™t hear bandied over the kitchen table: â€œHoney, how will the neighborhood design affect the kidsâ€™ physical and mental health?â€
Yet after chatting with Richard Jackson, chair of UCLAâ€™s Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health, one wonders why ever not. A pediatrician and former director of environmental health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Jackson has spent the better part of the past decade rethinking U.S. childrenâ€™s most pressing health problems from a radically new perspective: through the lens of the neighborhoods they grow up in.
At the CDC, Jackson noticed that his agency wasnâ€™t addressing the primary health risks most kids now face. â€œMost of the environmental health hazards that we focused on â€” toxic chemicals and climate change â€” were relatively remote and abstract,â€ he says. â€œOn the other hand, a lot of our environmental threats come from polluted air, water, stress, which can be traced back to transportation. And our transportation [system] is a response to how we build our environment.â€
Thus, one of the countryâ€™s foremost public health pediatricians began thinking like an urban planner