Miami is known for many things, among them is our svelte, sexy residents. Yes, South Beach is riddled with enough six packs to rival Anheuser-Busch. But the truth is much less attractive: Like much of the country, we are facing a health crisis.
According to the CDC, nearly two-thirds of Miami-Dade County residents are overweight or obese, and less than a quarter engaged in any physical activity within the last 30 days. While these numbers are fairly close to the national averages, they run counter to the city’s perception as a hub for fit, active people.
The obesity crisis is a challenge facing the whole country, but it is a greater problem here. According to the Miami Foundation’s Our Miami report, local residents are far less likely to have health insurance compared to other major metropolitan areas such as Chicago and San Diego. In addition, the McMillan Medical Index has listed Miami as the most expensive city to receive healthcare for a typical family of four in several of its most recent studies.
Not only must we deal with the sociological and physiological impact, we also must deal with a greater economic impact for local citizens, who will be paying for this both through out-of-pocket medical expenses and through their tax dollars. These factors make obesity an especially expensive burden for Miami to bear, particularly for millennials in our community as they are on track to be the most obese generation ever.
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Unfortunately, many of the problems that promote lack of physical activity are systemic and difficult to address. Despite our tropical climate, lush outdoor spaces and hundreds of days of sunshine, it is not easy for Miamians to be active.
As with many communities, the most walking many do in our city is from their home to their car and from their car to their destination.
Dense, walkable communities like in New York, with easy access to public transit have been shown to have lower rates of obesity. Here, unfortunately that’s a remedy that will be difficult to put in place.
Moreover, it is often a challenge for people to be active here. Many roads are unsafe for walking or biking, parks are far from where many people live and sprawling development discourages physical activity.
But there are ways to alleviate these issues by encouraging wellness through urban and building design, as well as through community initiatives.
Working for an architecture and design center has taught me a lot about active design, a holistic approach to developing healthier lifestyles through architecture and urban planning.
By applying proven principles to urban design, we can help foster greater wellness through a variety of approaches: creating private developments that add new park space; encouraging access to healthy food markets; and making safer paths for pedestrians and cyclists are just a few ways our community can promote good health.
In buildings, small modifications such as encouraging stair use through design and location or creating longer distances between common areas can encourage incremental daily activity.
Not only do such initiatives help fight obesity, they also improve quality of life. Many young residents crave walkability, access to transit, proximity to green areas and improved recreational offerings when seeking out neighborhoods to live and work.
By creating communities with health in mind, you also make desirable areas that people want to be a part of (which would translate into profit for developers and increased property-tax dollars for the city).
Our city is rapidly growing. New developments are being created, and new infrastructure will need to support these burgeoning epicenters. We have the opportunity to move toward creating an environment that promotes wellness and health, one that will help future generations combat obesity, which is among the leading preventable causes of death in the country.
By building a healthier city, we not only can trim the waistlines of our residents, we can also reap the fat rewards that come with a fit citizenry.
Ricardo Mor is operations and programs coordinator for the Miami Center for Architecture & Design.