Democratic Junior Senator of Illinois
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was first impressed by the impact of the built environment on public health while working as a community organizer in the mid-1980s on Chicago’s South Side.
“One of the neighborhoods in which I worked was bordered by the highly polluted Calumet River on one side and railroad tracks on the other side. People didn’t just grow up in this neighborhood—generation after generation stayed in a community with pollutants and extremely limited access to physical activity and healthy living,” says Senator Obama. “This image has stuck with me and is a motivating force to improve community design that includes all members of society.”
Obama has made healthy community design one of his legislative priorities as a U.S. Senator. He serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees legislation and funding for the environment and public works projects throughout the country—including the national transportation bill.
“As the health of Americans continues to decline, and our health expenditures continue to soar, it is imperative that the Congress take action,” says Obama. “With some exceptions, we are just starting to design communities with active living in mind. We need playgrounds so our children can be active; we need bike and walking paths that are safe and accessible. Schools and work places that are within walking distance of homes should be the norm, not the exception. We as a society are moving in that direction, and we need public policy that supports these efforts and ensures that all segments of society reap the rewards of healthy living.”
To date, the junior senator has introduced two major pieces of legislation to improve community health, including the Healthy Places Act of 2006 and the Healthy Communities Act of 2005.
“The Healthy Places Act would help state and local governments assess the health impact of new policies or projects, whether it’s a new highway or shopping center,” Obama says. “And once the health impact is determined, the bill gives grant funding and technical assistance to help address the potential health problems.”
Senator Obama is passionate about building a healthier future for American families. “If we make a real commitment to, and investment in, building healthy communities, we can substantially improve the health of children and adults,” he says.
“Design Communities to Make Kids Healthier,” The Hill
American Public Health Association’s one-page summary of the Health Places Act of 2006
“The Fresh Face,” Time