One thing is clear about New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, he doesn't shy away from a good fight, especially if the health and well-being of citizens is at stake. Whether it's getting food establishments to post calorie counts, cut back on trans fats, or limit the size of sugary sodas, he and his administration charge full steam ahead, all the while providing a great example of one of the main tenets of public health: our surroundings - the people, the choices, the places around us - make a real difference in our health behaviors.
In his latest push, the mayor signed an executive order focused on improving physical activity by promoting easier access to stairs in new buildings or those under significant renovation. Good evidence shows that stairways can be an effective and practical venue for increasing activity levels - improving fitness and hopefully combatting weight gain and obesity. We've previously posted about an unscientific - but very entertaining - project showing how stairs can me made more engaging, likely increasing their use (see video).
Though building design has begun to slowly change as green design and smart design have started to take hold, most existing buildings built since the 70s seemingly hide stairways from regular use, and even when you can find them, they are often dark and uninviting and accessed by doors that may or may not let you return through. Not a recipe for daily use, to be sure.
Under Bloomberg's initiative - and in two proposed bills - stairways will be brought back into the fore - with the hope that being able to see and easily access stairs will increase their use.
There will be hiccups along the way as these initiatives are put into practice. Change is always difficult. This movement, though, may meet less resistance than some of the mayor's others, building as it does on the current design ethos to create healthy and energy-efficient structures.Time will tell. One thing is sure, however, Bloomberg will keep moving ahead one step at a time.
Meyer P, Kayser B, Kossovsky MP, et al. Stairs instead of elevators at workplace: cardioprotective effects of a pragmatic intervention. Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2010;17:569-75.
Nicoll G, Zimring C. Effect of innovative building design on physical activity. J Public Health Policy. 2009;30 Suppl 1:S111-23.
Soler RE, Leeks KD, Buchanan LR, Brownson RC, Heath GW, Hopkins DH. Point-of-decision prompts to increase stair use. A systematic review update. Am J Prev Med. 2010;38:S292-300.