New Brunswick

High rates of car ownership and heart disease no coincidence

New Brunswick has one of the highest rates of car-ownership in Canada.

Fredericton doctor says car culture in New Brunswick is having a significant impact on health

Doctor charts where Fredericton isn't friendly to walkers and cyclists. 1:58

A Fredericton family doctor who moved to New Brunswick in 2008 says he was immediately struck by the car culture.

Dr. Vincent Beswick-Escanlar was so intrigued by the phenomenon, he mapped out the walkability of Fredericton's neighbourhoods. He found it's often difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get around by your own power.

"People in New Brunswick, in Fredericton, tend to walk and bike less than they do out west. Here in Fredericton, people tend to drive even if they're going short distances," Beswick-Escanlar said.

It's something drivers in Fredericton also recognize.

Tanya Blanchette knows she could easily bike to work, which is only three or four kilometres from her home, but says she doesn't even own a bike, she only owns a car.

Dr Cristin Muecke, a medical officer of health for provincial programs in New Brunswick, says decades of outdated policies have led to suburban sprawl and made owning a car unavoidable.

"Diabetes, heart disease, cancer — a lot of these diseases are related to people's lifestyles."

She says it is no coincidence that New Brunswick has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the country and some of the highest rates of diabetes and heart disease.

Beswick-Escanlar's research took a close look at neighbourhood maps.

"How close are you to places you can walk to and what sort of variety of options can you walk to," he said.

Those maps show a number of neighbourhoods are nowhere near restaurants, grocery stores or other amenities.

Muecke says it's something that needs to change in the entire province.

"If we create more choices that are healthy and make it easier to access, then I think we'll see changes in some of our outcomes," she said.

Earlier this year, the City of Fredericton released a draft report outlining goals for the future of the city.

The report concluded, "The success of a downtown hinges on its walkability."

However, there have been few details on what changes it aims to make to get commuters out of their cars and onto the sidewalk.