STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
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By Mr. OBAMA (for himself, Mr. Durbin, Mrs. Clinton, and Mr. Kerry):
S. 2506. A bill to require Federal agencies to support health impact assessments and take other actions to improve health and the environmental quality of communities, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, this is National Public Health Week, and the American Public Health Association and its over 200 partner organizations and sponsors have organized events to raise awareness about the importance of public health in this nation. This year, the theme of National Public Health Week, ``Designing Healthy Communities: Raising Healthy Kids,'' focuses on building healthy communities to promote and protect the health of our children.
This focus on building healthy communities is both timely and critical. We are losing ground with respect to the health of our Nation's children. Studies have found that the percentage of overweight children and adolescents has more than doubled in the last few decades; without intervention, 1 in 3 children born in 2000 can expect to develop diabetes in their lifetime. My home State of Illinois has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of lead-poisoned children. And other diseases and conditions, including high blood pressure and asthma, are on the rise in young populations.
As bleak as the health situation is for so many children, there is good news. Many of these diseases and health conditions are completely preventable or can be delayed for many, many years. The American Public Health Association and countless other expert organizations have told us, and shown us, that if we make a real commitment to and investment in building healthy communities, we can substantially improve the health of our children and adults. Today I am introducing the Healthy Places Act of 2006, which will do just that.
The Healthy Places Act of 2006 focuses on the built environment, which includes our homes, schools, workplaces, parks and recreation areas, business areas, and transportation systems. Where we work, live, and play has tremendous implications for our health, and improvements to these environments will lead to: greater opportunities for physical activity and a reduction in injuries because of safe sidewalks, biking paths, and parks; less reliance on personal automobiles which reduces toxic emissions; better access to fresh fruits and vegetables which leads to healthier nutrition; and the planning and building of ``green'' homes and buildings which decreases energy consumption.
Like many other States, Illinois has already begun to take steps to improve the environment. City leaders in Chicago have recognized that many low-income families have no access to fresh foods and medicine because there are no grocery stores and pharmacies in their neighborhoods. Retail Chicago, an initiative of the city's Department of Planning and Development, is now using redevelopment funds to entice local developers to bring grocery stores and pharmacies into these neighborhoods.
The Lieutenant Governor's initiative ``Six Weeks to a Greener Illinois'' is another fine example. Now in its 4th week, this effort has encouraged Illinoisans to participate in making the State a healthier place to live, and rewarded those communities that are already taking steps to do so.
The Healthy Places Act of 2006 would expand these and other efforts to improve the planning and design of communities that can promote healthier living. It establishes and supports health impact assessment programs, which would assist States and local communities in examining potential health effects of major health policy or programmatic changes. The newly created Interagency Working Group on Environmental Health would facilitate communication and collaboration on projects among the agencies in order to better address environmental health issues. In addition, the bill creates a grant program to address environmental health hazards, particularly those that contribute to health disparities. Finally, the Healthy Places Act provides additional support for research on the relationship between the built environment and the health status of residents as recommended by two Institute of Medicine's reports: ``Does the Built Environment Influence Physical Activity?'' and ``Rebuilding the Unity of Health and the Environment: A New Vision of Environmental Health for the 21st Century''.
As the health of our children continues to decline, and our health expenditures continue to soar, it is imperative that the Congress take action, and focusing on building healthier communities is a necessary step in this regard. I encourage all of my colleagues to join me and support passage of this bill.