Lack of physical activity is a contributing factor in a number of cancers, the latest being prostate cancer. The state’s and country’s staggering obesity epidemic is another outcome of low physical activity levels within the population. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that if the current obesity trend continues in the U.S., it will lead to about 500,000 additional cases of cancer by 2030. The ACS also estimated there will be 8,450 new cases of cancer in New Hampshire in 2014. HEAL NH and the Cancer Collaboration are both initiatives directed by the Foundation for Healthy Communities, that have been working together to address objectives in the NH Cancer and HEAL Plans to increase physical activity and reduce obesity in NH.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2009 Recommended Community Strategies to Prevent Obesity in the United States recommends increasing access to active transportation opportunities as an effective strategy to increase physical activity levels (e.g., increased access to bicycling and walking as modes of transportation). The term “active transportation” means getting from one place to another using a form of physical activity – usually by foot, bicycle, or wheelchair. Skateboarding and rollerblading count, too. 

HEAL NH and its network of community partners are successfully joining with community planning/development departments to implement active transportation projects across the state. In Laconia, the local HEAL coalition found a new champion in the City’s Public Works Director, Paul Moynihan. When touring a dangerous intersection leading to a city park, Moynihan commented, “We had recently done road upgrades on the street sections adjacent to Wyatt Park, but we hadn’t addressed accessibility improvements to the adjacent sidewalk. The HEAL Grant initiative prompted us to revisit the pedestrian and active transportation needs at this site, and to broaden our view to accomplish similar improvements on other city roadway upgrade projects in the future.”

The Nashua HEAL partnership installed lighting, planted community gardens, and cleaned up overgrown areas along the Heritage Rail Trail (HRT), an active transportation corridor that runs through the Tree Streets neighborhood in the heart of the city. As a result of this work, the trail has become safer and more aesthetically pleasing for users, while promoting health equity. A 2014 Community Health Assessment conducted by the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services stated, “… the social determinants of health play a major role in defining the health inequities and the burden of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and obesity.” Included in the social determinants of health are transportation choices that include walking and bicycling.

Recommended active transportation strategies include Community Complete Streets, Municipal Regulatory Audits that help cities and towns enact land use regulations and ordinances to create healthier environments for residents, and Safe Routes to School programs. HEAL provides training, technical assistance, and an array of tools and resources through its active transportation program for public health organizations, municipalities, community partnerships and bicycle-pedestrian advocates. HEAL active transportation tools and resources, as well as more examples of active transportation projects in New Hampshire are found at: www.healnh.org/index.php/active-transportation/active-transportation-resources.