Street full of fast food restaurants such as McDonald's, Taco Bell, Arby's and Burger King

Built for health?

The physical features of communities shape our health every day. Road design, green space and tree cover, zoning laws that determine where businesses can locate, access to public transit—factors like these define the built environment that surrounds our homes, schools, workplaces and gathering places. These aspects of our shared spaces can make it easier, or more difficult, to live a healthy life.


Young female child attempting to cross busy street with no paint lines

Consider a common barrier in the built environment of rural towns and big cities: A high-traffic road with no sidewalks or benches. Parents and kids can’t safely walk to a park to move and play. A person with a disability that prevents her from driving can’t reach the bus stop that connects her to a full life. Older adults, with no option to rest on their way to a community center, stay inside instead.

Young male adults playing basketball outside at night

It doesn’t have to be this way. Communities can design roads to make it safer and more convenient to walk, bike or roll. They can invest in connected sidewalks, tree-shaded parks, well-lit streets and other health-promoting features. Oregonians also can shape what’s for sale in their community: for example, by helping decide how many businesses can sell alcohol in their neighborhood. When these decisions and investments happen in all communities, especially those that historically haven’t benefited from them, barriers to health disappear. And more Oregonians—of all ages, abilities and incomes—have the opportunity to live a healthy life.



  • Social conditions

    When communities don’t invest in accessible parks and safe streets, people in neglected neighborhoods are less likely to be active, regardless of race or income.

    Education, income,
    discrimination and structural
    racism are among the social conditions that can limit or
    expand a person’s ability to live a healthy life.

    Three people standing on boxes trying to grab apples from a tree. First person is the tallest with the shortest box. Second person is at middle length with the middle length box. Third person is at the shortest length with the highest box. All three people are able to grab apples from the tree.
  • Physical settings

    Developers who design shorter blocks and multiple walking and rolling routes through neighborhoods make it easier for residents to be physically active every day.

    The locations where we live,
    work, learn, play or age, such as
    our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, parks,
    senior centers and public spaces, help determine how healthy we
    can be.

    A neighborhood showing a house next to an apartment building next to an office building.
  • Industry practices

    For decades, racist housing policies and banking practices confined people of color to areas with less green space and fewer parks and other health-promoting features.

    Companies sell things—they always have. But today, kids are surrounded by marketing that pushes harmful products, while low-income adults and communities of color are specifically targeted.

    An outdoor billboard showing a sugary drink advertisement for
  • People power

    From Clatsop County to Pendleton, communities across Oregon have created more clean air by making public parks tobacco-free and smoke-free.

    Governments, communities and voters can change policies and environments in ways that make
    it easier or harder to make healthy choices.

    A group of diverse people speaking up at a forum

Watch the videos

  • Open Video Modal

    We are in Madison South, which is in outer Northeast Portland. And we’ve got Madison High School nearby. But it’s largely residential with 82nd running through it. The closest food source for us is a convenience store, just a few blocks down Fremont. It, in my opinion, doesn’t really offer that much. I wouldn’t exactly go there for any fresh items. I don’t think they truly understand that there’s a whole community of people who are wanting healthy fresh foods here. We’ve talked about how great it’d be to have even a co-op grocer there. And something that’d be that close, even I would be willing to walk to that. Because I mean get out, get some fresh air, get a great walk, and actually be able to get some fresh stuff, I’d be in heaven.

    Kimberly Botter:
    I would love to be able to walk to our neighborhood school or to the park on a more regular basis. But it just doesn’t feel comfortable or safe.

    92nd feeds straight into a school and there are no sidewalk. And so all the kids who are trying to use that to get to and from school, it is like a massive danger zone.

    Kimberly Botter:
    It’s a big deal to walk along a stretch of the road without any sidewalks. There’s buses, cars speed, there’s narrow edges. Technically it’s not very far at all. It’s distance-wise it should be no problem, but accessibility-wise it’s a huge barrier.

    I would love to be able to see a park or a playground closer to my house because there are so many little kids that I know of within a few-block radius. And that would just really help all of us be able to get the kids together, help them form friendships. Anything that can really help build some more community, and really get the families investing into their community and into their neighborhood would be amazing.

    Kimberly Botter:
    What we want is businesses such as a farmer’s market or a supermarket or a coffee shop. Places where people can go to and gather and get people in the neighborhood who want to walk to these places, who want to have some place to go in their neighborhood. I think that having places to go to, to walk to, for the community to gather is honestly the key to changing this area.

    Wanted: Places to go, safe ways to walk there

    Residents of Madison South in outer Northeast Portland keep trying to attract grocery stores that sell fresh produce. They want safer routes for walking children to school and more parks and gathering spaces to build community. With few sidewalks or convenient options for healthy food, they experience negative consequences of the place-health connection every day.

  • Open Video Modal

    Bob Orlando:
    The distance to get to any recreational opportunities was just ridiculous. I mean, I had to get in the car and drive at least a half an hour or 45 minutes to get somewhere where I could experience any kind of a recreational opportunity.

    Most of the people in Prineville are walkers and cyclists, and especially during the summer you see groups of people out walking and cycling all the time. You visit the parks and different recreational facilities in the parks. You’ll see them being used. They are being used and they’re being used quite a lot. Here in the city are always trying to improve what recreational opportunities are available. Okay. Whether it just simply be striping a street for bicycles or continuing a trail system through a park. If you want to just get outside and do something, the opportunity is here. You just have to have that desire.

    I think the community mindset here is conducive to having all these opportunities. I think as the community’s a little more close knit than where I came from, and so people, you know, they talk more, they socialize more, they are more active in local politics. And this makes it easy to get the city to do things and get the county to do things that we would like them to do.

    A new chance for an active life

    Before he moved to Central Oregon, Bob Orlando found it difficult to live a healthy life. But in Prineville, he’s found more opportunities to get outside and move. City government makes exercise more accessible —from striping bike lanes to adding segments to walking trails. His new community makes it easier for residents to live healthy lives.

  • Open Video Modal

    Will Fuller:
    Multnomah is kind of a nice middle-class, comfortable place, but it’s got a rural feel to it. We can stay in our house, walk to a bus four blocks away, to our bank, to a small grocery store, go up to the Multnomah Center, it has a senior center, all walking distance. Down to the park. And that sense of being a little village and a community in the middle of a city, which is always under pressure to build and build and build, is a really attractive place. As you get older, your health deteriorates. Something aches that didn’t ache. But if you’re active and involved, if you’re connected, it makes it easier and you feel better. Old age is to some extent a chronic disease. Nobody chooses to get old, you get old. Nobody chooses to live in a place where not many people have money because you don’t have money.

    What’s the problem is how we treat those people, how they got there in the first place. That’s not socialism or something like that. It’s getting along with other people in a connected way. A sense of community, a sense of getting together, the people walking up and down a street. That is social health in practice. And to deny that to somebody because they’re old or because they’re Black or because they’re strange in some way is a rift in the force that we don’t have to have because we know how to do it better in Portland and we know how to do it in this region versus that region. I don’t have to be the only person in town that’s getting a good deal because I live in a nice part of town. And we need every resource possible in the society to make a difference in that life. Quality of life.

    The social health of a village

    The walkable design of Will Fuller’s Southwest Portland neighborhood matters to his health and the “social health” of the area. He can walk from home to a senior center, bank, grocery, park and bus stop, all within a few blocks. Will says everyone, no matter where they live in Oregon, deserves the same opportunities that he’s had to live a healthy life.

  • Open Video Modal

    Vicky Buelow:
    Good afternoon everyone, welcome to the Data Within Reach Webinar. This webinar will focus on exercise, physical activity, and walkability in Oregon. My name is Vicky Buelow and I am one of the research analysts in the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease section of the Oregon Public Health Division. Before we get started, I’d like to go over some logistics. First, I’d like to remind everyone who is listening on the phone to please mute their phones. Please be sure that your phone is on mute and not on hold. For those who are listening via the web, you’ll be in listen only mode until it’s time for questions and discussion at the end.

    Vicky Buelow:
    Secondly, this webinar is hopefully being recorded and will be posted to the Health Within Reach Blog for later viewing. Finally, after the end of this presentation, a short evaluation survey should pop up on your screen. If you don’t have time to fill it out immediately after the presentation, it will also be emailed to you before the end of the day today. We would greatly appreciate everyone filling it out so we can continue to improve and refine this webinar series in the future.

    Vicky Buelow:
    For our 30 minutes today, I am going to present data on physical activity in Oregon. Then we will talk about walkability and how it can help increase physical activity in Oregon. Then, at the end we’ll have some action steps and provide an opportunity for questions and discussion. The presentation portion of this webinar will be for about 15 minutes and then we will open it up for questions and discussions. If you have any questions during the presentation, please type them into the chat box along the sidebar of your screen and we’ll start with answering those questions at the end of the webinar. We’ll do our best to get to all of them and we can get back to people on questions that we’re not able to answer during our time here today.

    Vicky Buelow:
    I hope that most of you came upon this webinar via the Health Within Reach blog. As part of the Health Within Reach blog we occasionally hold Data Within Reach webinars and these webinars are meant to provide additional data that hopefully compliments the topic addressed in the blog post. I encourage you to sign up for future post notifications and share the blog with your colleagues or other interested partners.

    Vicky Buelow:
    The purpose of this webinar series is to provide a venue for sharing data that we collect here on a variety of topics. We also want to provide an opportunity for people interested in health promotion and chronic disease prevention to ask questions and have a discussion about the data. In sum, these webinars are intended to provide quick bite sized chunks of new data and hopefully spark some discussion, so let’s get to it.

    Vicky Buelow:
    In 2008, the US Department of Health and Human Services released the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and these are still current today. These guidelines outline recommendations for children and adolescents, adults, and older adults. There are also considerations and recommendations for adults with disabilities, women during pregnancy and post-partum, and people with chronic medical conditions.

    Vicky Buelow:
    For the purpose of this webinar, we’re going to talk about the physical activity recommendations for adults. There are three key guidelines or components of the physical activity recommendations. The first guideline is that everyone should avoid inactivity. Research shows that some physical activity is better than none and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity will gain some health benefits.

    Vicky Buelow:
    The second component or guideline is a aerobic activity. Aerobic activities, called endurance activities or cardio, are physical activities in which large muscle groups are being used for a sustained period. Running, brisk walking, bicycling, playing basketball, dancing, and swimming are all examples of aerobic activities. Aerobic activities make a person’s heart beat more rapidly to meet the demands of the body’s movement.

    Vicky Buelow:
    The third component or guideline is strengthening activity, also known as strength training or resistance training. Muscle strengthening activities provide additional health benefits not found with the aerobic activity, such as increased bone strength and muscular fitness. Examples include using resistance bands, weights, doing push-ups and sit-ups or body weight exercises. Muscle strengthening activities increase muscle strength, power, and endurance. It can also help maintain muscle mass during aging or during a program of weight loss.

    Vicky Buelow:
    Most health benefits occur with at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity such as jogging or running each week. Moderate and vigorous activities can be combined to meet the recommended amount of minutes per week. However, adults gain additional and more extensive health and fitness benefits with even more physical activity. For extensive health benefits, the recommendation is 300 minutes of moderate activity each week or 150 minutes of vigorous activity.

    Vicky Buelow:
    Now, 150 minutes may sound like a lot of time but the good news is, is that aerobic activity can be spread out throughout the week and does not have to be done all at once. In fact, research shows that just 10 minutes at a time will provide health benefits if the 115 minutes are met each week. Adults should do muscle strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on two or more days per week. No specific amount of time is recommended for muscle strengthening, just that the activities are done at least twice per week.

    Vicky Buelow:
    In summary, the minimum recommendations for physical activity for adults are 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, combined with muscle strengthening activities on two or more days per week. All right, so let’s get to some data. The data that I’m about to present is from the Oregon Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which we call BRFSS. It’s developed in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon BRFSS is a health and health behavior survey of adults in Oregon. Data are collected on an ongoing basis by telephone and state level results are released yearly.

    Vicky Buelow:
    This slide shows physical inactivity, which is also sometimes called no leisure time physical activity among Oregon adults. This shows that the proportion of Oregon adults who report doing no physical activity outside of work in the past 30 days. This data is collected every year on the survey and, as you can see, about one in five adults report doing no physical activity, and we really haven’t seen that change over the past 20 years.

    Vicky Buelow:
    When we talk about walkability later, keep in mind that this is the population that our efforts are really trying to target because we know that some physical activity is better than no physical activity. If we can decrease this number, then we would expect to see better health outcomes. Activity data is collected on odd years of the survey so the latest available data is from 2015. This data show that nearly two-thirds of Oregon adults meet the minimum recommendation for aerobic activity, and this has been fairly consistent over the past couple of years.

    Vicky Buelow:
    For strengthening activity, only about one-third of Oregon adults meet the recommendation of doing strengthening activities twice a week. Finally, for meeting both recommendations for aerobic and strengthening activities, only about one in four adults meet this minimum recommendation. Why do we care about increasing physical activity? We also know that over half of Oregonians have one or more chronic diseases, including arthritis, asthma, cancer, lung or cardiovascular diseases, depression, and diabetes.

    Vicky Buelow:
    Notably, obesity, arthritis, and depression affect over one in four Oregon adults. Obesity and diabetes among adults in Oregon has more than doubled over the past three decades and continue to trend upwards. Adults with chronic diseases are also more likely to be physically inactive. Furthermore, over three-quarters of Oregon adults have at least one health risk factor that can cause or complicate chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, current tobacco use, physical inactivity or obesity.

    Vicky Buelow:
    Luckily, the research is crystal clear on the health benefits of physical activity. Here are just a few examples of what physical activity can do in terms of lowering the risk of and improving complications of chronic disease. Again, we know that adults with chronic diseases are more likely to be physically inactive but becoming active would likely improve their condition. For example, being physically active can reduce pain from arthritis and increase function by about 40%. To summarize, physical activity is good. Getting regular exercise can help prevent and reduce the complications of chronic diseases and risk factors. It also supports positive mental health and supports healthy aging.

    Vicky Buelow:
    The last bit of data I have for you is that walking is the most common form of physical activity reported among Oregon adults. Over half of Oregon adults report walking as one of their primary ways that they get physical activity. Walking is a public health opportunity to increase physical activity levels. Walking is multi-purpose. People walk for transportation, to get to or from school or work, to do errands and to walk their dogs and socialize. Walking is a good way to help people who are physically inactive become active. While walking is a very common activity, it isn’t always easy for everyone to do.

    Vicky Buelow:
    Now I’m going to turn it over to Steve White who will talk a little bit more about walkability.

    Steve White:
    Great, thanks Vicky. Again, I’m Steve White, I am a policy analyst here in the Oregon Public Health Division’s section on Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention. I’ve only been here a short while. Before joining the Public Health Division, I was with the Oregon Public Health Institute where I worked on a lot of transportation and public health efforts that focused a lot on walk-ability. This is certainly a subject that’s near and dear to my heart and very happy to be here to talk about it on this webinar today.

    Steve White:
    What is a walkable community? I think a lot of us have a general sense of what a walkable community is, but when we talk about it in a public health context we describe walkable communities as places where walking is a safe, attractive, convenient option for everyone. Walkability begins with physical infrastructure adequately designed for all users, including people with mobility devices such as wheelchairs, canes, and crutches. However, infrastructure is just a start.

    Steve White:
    In order to encourage use, sidewalks, paths and crossings need to conveniently connect people to the places they need to go. They also need to be safe and attractive and well maintained. In addition, they need to be activated. While this can happen naturally as people begin to move about their communities on foot, many communities also implement programs and events to encourage walking.

    Steve White:
    Okay. Where do walkable communities come from? Well, when talking about walk-ability, we often talk about the five E’s. The first E is engineering or physical infrastructure. This component is typically guided by the land use, transportation, and public works policies contained in a jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan. These policies help determine when, where, and how new infrastructure gets built.

    Steve White:
    The second E, education, comes from a variety of sources, mostly parents but also from discreet educational programs such as those that often accompany safe routes to school programs that we are increasingly seeing in Oregon schools. Similarly, encouragement activities come from many sources such as Safe Routes to Schools Programs but many communities also have multiple walking events designed to help people get excited about walking.

    Steve White:
    The fourth E, enforcement, is also key and is very necessary to ensure safety. The fifth E is equity and equity is crucial and needs to be considered in all of these activities to ensure that underserved communities and populations with specific needs benefit from efforts to improve walkability. In Oregon, there are already many communities and organizations working to promote walking. I’ve just got a few examples of some organizations and programs that are currently in place in Oregon. I’m not going to go through all of them but I just want to highlight a couple.

    Steve White:
    In the upper left is the Transportation and Growth Management Program, which is a joint program between the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Department of Land Conservation and Development. They provide a lot of support for transportation and land use planners throughout the state and have been working for the last few years to develop guidance for planners to develop strategies and implement plans and policies that promote walking in their communities.

    Steve White:
    In the bottom right, the city of Tigard recently developed a strategic plan for the entire city that focuses on becoming the most walkable community in the Pacific Northwest. They’ve been doing a lot, not just through active transportation but through a lot of other city led efforts to improve walkability. There are a number of other organizations that do a variety of events to promote walking in different contexts. A couple of ongoing ones are the Sunday Parkways event, which has been sponsored by Kaiser Permanente.

    Steve White:
    Then certainly other programs that have been in place for quite a while, the Let’s Move Together Program by the Arthritis Foundation. Similarly, the National Diabetes Prevention Program focuses on walking. These self-management programs have been in place for quite a while and I think a number of us know that they’ve been active and really a lot of their organizational efforts have focused on events that promote walking and physical activity.

    Steve White:
    To wrap up and give people a time to ask questions and talk through some of this a little bit, there are really three main takeaways that we want you all to get from this webinar today. The first of which is that Oregonian’s are not getting enough physical activity. The second of which is, that walking is a public health opportunity to increase physical activity. Then finally, improving walkability requires coordinated efforts across different sectors to really make it an effective and an attractive option for all Oregonians who are interested in getting more physical activity.

    Exercise, physical activity and walkability in Oregon

    When our communities are walkable, the benefits accrue to more than just the individual walker. Creating walkable places is among the most promising strategies for addressing chronic diseases that take a physical and financial toll on our state. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your community more walkable, no matter where you live.

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  • Let’s talk the walk

    “Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.” – Kahlil Gibran For individuals, the health benefits are clear: Walking, or rolling for wheelchair users, raises the heart rate, elevates energy levels and improves mood. And some studies show that regular moderate exercise—like a brisk walk—is one of the best…

    Read the full story
    Male and female older adult couple walking in rural environment outside with walkers

Time to get involved

Whether you have one minute or a full day, we all can play a role in building healthier communities.

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Personal stories show how communities shape our health. Share one Oregonian’s search for a healthier life in Central Oregon.

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Share the facts

Statistics prove how place matters to the health of communities. Download web-friendly facts about how the physical features of communities affect our health.

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Get to know a partner

Dozens of organizations are working to make better places and better lives by improving the built environment, including Oregon Walks.

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Key factors shape the health of communities, but they aren’t easy to see. These PowerPoint slides reveal how drivers of health affect our built environment.

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