North America suffers some of the highest rates of overweight in the world, with 66% of American adults and 59% of Canadian adults affected. Although the list of contributing factors is long and complex, there is no doubt that an infrastructure and attitude that promotes sedentary living is clearly a major issue.

I took the above photo at last year’s meeting of the American Diabetes Association in Orlando, FL, USA. This is one of the largest gatherings of health care providers interested in the treatment and prevention of diabetes on earth, and yet, when offered the option, the escalator was usually preferred to the stairs. Part of the problem here was the construction of the conference centre: while an escalator is certainly important for accessibility for people unable to take the stairs, are two sets side by side really necessary?

For people who try to engage in more healthy leisure activity, golf has really taken off as a popular activity. Golf can provide fantastic exercise; within the space of an afternoon, several kilometres can be walked and enjoyed with friends or colleagues. Sadly, many golf courses now don’t allow patrons to walk the course, insisting that they use a buggy so that more players can be moved through! While golf courses were previously built to walk, many are now developed with the goal of maximizing real estate property on the course, which results in an enormous golf course which may not even be practical to walk.

The tipping point which stimulated me to write this blog on this particular week was a recent experience I had on the rural highways in Southern Alberta. I was out for a fantastic ride on my road bike on a fairly quiet highway, with beautiful views and great weather to accompany me on my journey. The shoulder was narrow, but I felt comfortable…. until I came upon a long stretch of rumble strips that had been planted in the middle of it! Unfortunately, there was no cycle path alongside for cyclists to move to; the choices were to brave the traffic, or turn around. This is in stark contrast to many other countries around the world, where there is a priority on accessible and safe self-powered transport, which not only helps to keep people active, but also saves on CO2 emissions and keeps road traffic more manageable. I certainly understand the need to alert drivers with rumble strips if they get distracted and are edging towards the side of the road, but this should not be at the sacrifice of others who are trying to enjoy the road under their own steam.

As North Americans, it is upon each of us to work exceptionally hard to find ways to stay active in our environment. Maybe it’s time to rumble with policy makers to make our infrastructure more conducive to physical activity.

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2011