Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: March 29, 2007
Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. OBAMA (for himself, Mr. KERRY, Mrs. CLINTON, and Mr. DURBIN):

S. 1067. 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.

By Mr. OBAMA (for himself, Mr. KERRY, and Mrs. CLINTON):

S. 1068. A bill to promote healthy communities; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, next week is National Public Health week--a week to raise awareness about the importance of public health all around this Nation. I applaud the efforts of the American Public Health Association in organizing events across the country to assist in this awareness building.

We all know the alarming statistics demonstrating the worsening health status in both children and adults in this Nation. Without intervention, 1 in 3 children born in 2000 can expect to develop diabetes in their lifetime because of obesity resulting from poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles. In my home State of Illinois, we have the highest number of lead-poisoned children in the Nation because of the large amount of older housing in places like Chicago. And asthma rates are on the rise in minority populations, reflecting worsening air quality in many areas.

But what many don't know is how, and the degree to which, changes in the environment are contributing to this health decline. Yet, study after study has shown that environmental factors can be just as problematic as poor genes in causing disease.

While working as a community organizer in the mid-1980s on Chicago's south side, I became intimately aware of the impact of the built environment on public health. One of the neighborhoods in which I worked was bordered by the highly polluted Calumet River on one side and railroad tracks on the other side. People didn't just grow up in this neighborhood--generation after generation stayed in a community with pollutants and extremely limited access to physical activity and healthy living. This image stays with me and is a motivating force to improve community design that includes all members of society.

The American Public Health Association and countless other expert organizations have shown us that if we make a real commitment to, and investment in, building healthy communities, we can substantially improve the health of children and adults.

There are many simple ways we can do this. Whenever we build a new highway or a new condo complex, we could also build a park where kids can play. Whenever we plan new communities, we could put grocery stores, restaurants and post offices within easy walking distance. We could take steps to ensure that factories or power plants aren't located near schools. We could ensure that kids are not exposed to lead hazards. And we could encourage the development of ``green'' homes and buildings that decrease energy consumption.

And that is why I come to the floor today to reintroduce the Healthy Places Act, and the Healthy Communities Act. The Healthy Places Act would help State and local governments assess the health impact of new policies or projects, whether it's a new highway or a shopping center. And once the health impact is determined, the bill gives grant funding and technical assistance to help address the potential health problems. And while we already know a great deal about the relationship between the built environment and the health status of residents, the bill supports additional research so we can look into new environmental health hazards.

The Healthy Communities Act goes hand in hand with the Healthy Places Act, calling for the assessment of the impact of federal policies on environmental health and justice. To make sure our policy decisions are not hurting public health, this legislation requires an Environmental Health Report Card for each state and the Nation at large. Since areas with poor environmental health tend to be disproportionately fiscally poor as well, this legislation establishes health action zones that qualify for grant assistance to address these problems. And since much more remains to be understood in this arena, the bill calls for environmental health research and for environmental health workforce development.

We as a society are moving in the direction of designing communities with healthy living and public health in mind. For example, in Chicago, city leaders recognized the lack of grocery stores in many lower income neighborhoods, forcing families to go without fresh foods. To address this issue, the city's Department of Planning and Development developed a program called Retail Chicago, which used redevelopment funds to attract local developers to build grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods.

While we celebrate the success of such local efforts, we must call upon the Federal Government to provide adequate support. And we must ensure that all segments of society reap the rewards of building and maintaining healthy communities. I thank you for this time, and I urge my colleagues to support the Healthy Places Act and the Healthy Communities Act.


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