Jewish Journal

UCLA doctor focuses on children’s health In new PBS series

by Tom Tugend

Posted on May. 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

For the first time in U.S. history, the lifespans of today’s children will be shorter than those of their parents, thanks to the American way of unhealthy living.

So predicts Dr. Richard Jackson, chair of UCLA’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, who warned in an interview that the country’s economic, social and urban planning policies “are robbing five years from the lives of our children.”

The result, he added, is “a pandemic of diseases,” such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, heart problems, cancer and depression. Jackson cites somber statistics, such as 78,000 diabetes-related amputations last year, and notes that three-quarters of American youth can’t pass simple physical fitness tests.

Among contributing factors, for example, are urban roadways designed to force just about everyone into cars, discourage walking and prevent neighborly bonding, said Jackson, who has held top leadership positions in federal and California public health agencies.

He is now bringing his message to television in a four-part series, “Designing Healthy Communities.” The first two hours will be broadcast over independent public station KCET on May 5 and May 12 at 4 p.m.

In the first episode, “Retrofitting Suburbia,” Jackson investigates the link between the nation’s rising obesity rate and the current Type 2 diabetes epidemic. He also draws examples from various communities to counter the ominous trends, such the redesign of Boulder’s streets to make bicycles a safe form of transportation.

In the second episode, “Rebuilding Places of the Heart,” he looks at Rust Belt cities, such as Elgin, Ill., which is transforming itself into a greener, more sustainable community.

In subsequent episodes, Jackson will look at acute health problems in low-income neighborhoods in Oakland and Detroit and what groups of young activists are doing to change the situation.

Finally, on a note of hope, Jackson will visit communities of different sizes that have managed to establish healthy environments for their residents.

Jackson has written a companion book for the TV series, with the same title.

Despite daunting political and corporate obstacles, Jackson is not discouraged. He cites the overwhelming desire of young couples to establish themselves in livable communities, including the establishment of community gardens and safe bicycle road networks.

Co-producers of the TV series are Dale Bell and Harry Wiland of the Santa Monica-based Media Policy Center, with editor and writer Beverly Baroff.

For more information, visit designinghealthycommunities.org.

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