Diabetes prevention is a job for architects, says professor

Could better cities and buildings lead to fewer people with diabetes? One architecture professor says yes.

“We must realize that cities and homes must be exercise machines,” says McGill architecture prof

McGill professor Avi Friedman believes that if entire communities lent themselves to a more active lifestyle, the people living there will be less prone to obesity and diabetes. (CBC)

According to an architecture professor at McGill University, doctors aren't the only ones who should be at the forefront of the fight against diabetes.

Avi Friedman sees reducing diabetes as a planning and design challenge too.

Living a sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for developing diabetes, and Friedman says planning and building communities that promote physical activity will help reduce the instances of diabetes.

"In every fashion that we can get a person more active, from the time they leave their homes, and even in the homes, and spend more energy, I believe we can make a contribution," Friedman told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Friedman says his ideas were sparked by research that showed people who live in certain postal codes were more obese than others.

He believes that if entire communities lent themselves to a more active lifestyle — such as stores in walking distance to homes, public transit access and walking destinations — the people living there will be less prone to obesity and diabetes.

Friedman's ideal communities for healthy living would include safe bike paths, stores and other amenities a short distance away, play spaces for kids and public transit access. Buildings should also have staircases "front and centre" and not hidden away and labelled only as fire escapes, Friedman says.

He says designing buildings and communities with these features isn't difficult, but perceptions can get in the way.

"We got accustomed in North America to having communities where stores are separated from housing, and we created bylaws that are not accommodating such interactions," he said. "We need to begin by revisiting our zoning and bylaws and we must realize that cities and homes must be exercise machines."

Friedman says Denmark, Sweden and Finland have found success designing their cities as "exercise machines," and it would benefit North America to catch up.


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: How architecture can help prevent diabetes

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