Health buses and vertically farmed vegetables: these big cities are renewing resident wellbeing

24 Jan 2021

The impact.

A rushed pace of life, crowded city spaces, tiring commutes – it can be tough to stay healthy when living in a big city. The World Economic Forum is responding by working to create innovative urban partnerships, which are helping residents find a renewed focus on their physical and mental health.

The Forum began this work by re-examining the relationship between cities and healthy living through its Healthy Cities and Communities initiative, which launched in September 2019 as a multi-city platform. In 2020, the project has continued to expand to new locations and has effectively helped communities impacted by COVID-19.

Our work in this area is continuing with concrete actions in 2021 where best practices and learnings from all partner cities will be shared, allowing other cities to replicate and scale. Part of this knowledge sharing will take place during the Davos Agenda virtual meetings where engaged stakeholders will convene to create roadmaps towards sustainable consumption and health within urban settings.

What’s the challenge?

Unhealthy lifestyle choices made by consumers are a major concern, with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounting for 71% of all deaths worldwide. In addition, mental health issues affect one in four people in the world.

As an example, in the United States, hypertension, major depression and high cholesterol were among the top 10 health conditions having the greatest impact on quality of life in cities and suburbs; together, they have a national health impact of 30%. For example, Jersey City has a population of 265,000; 10% of Jersey City’s residents are diabetic and 25% are obese, and a sizeable population is homeless.

Similarly, in India, residents of growing urban areas had been living increasingly unhealthy lives due to food and lifestyle choices, leading to an increase in NCDs, which may account for 70% of the country’s disease burden by 2030. For the urban poor, many living in unhygienic conditions, access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities is another health challenge further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, mental health has been a rapidly growing challenge in India, across demographics and socio-economic segments, with an age-adjusted suicide rate of 21.1 per 100,000.

Our approach.

In Jersey City in the US State of New Jersey – the Healthy Cities and Communities initiative pilot city – a project with AeroFarms is working to deliver locally sourced vertically farmed greens to people in need. The initiative is also helping homeless people who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Mobile hygiene units, or Health Buses, are meeting people where they are and bringing health screenings, testing and counselling to the streets.

In 2020, the Healthy Cities and Communities initiative began work in the city of Austin, Texas, which is home for 1 million people. The Forum is collaborating with the Austin Healthcare Council to accelerate three well-being-centric programmes in Austin via public-private collaborations.

First, people in need are receiving a box of organic vegetables each week. Our collaboration with the Dell Medical School-affiliated startup, Good Apple Foods, means that with each box purchased, another box is provided without charge. This initiative uses surplus supplies of vegetables, reducing local waste.

Second, this initiative is providing community support for newborn children. United Way, in partnership with the Austin Department of Public Health, is developing the Family Connects Texas programme, which provides health worker home visits for three weeks after the birth to ensure each child gets a healthy start in life.

And third, collaboration with IBM is helping job seekers and business owners learn the skills they need to thrive in the digital economy. By launching a digital learning platform, SkillsBuild, the company is empowering members of the local community to assess their skills and find the best career match.

Mumbai is home to more than 20 million people

In 2020, the Healthy Cities and Communities initiative also expanded to Mumbai in India (home to more than 20 million people) in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and the Office of the Principal Scientific Advisor of the Government of India. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, sanitation and hygiene have been reemphasized as a priority, particularly as cities grapple with how to limit contagion in densely populated areas.

To address sanitation challenges, innovative public-private interventions are being launched with members of the Toilet Board Coalition’s India chapter starting in early 2021. In addition, “Innovation Challenges” engaging the startup community and research institutions in India will be launched in collaboration with Invest India to generate awareness of citizens and stakeholders on mental health issues and to reduce stigma.

How can you get involved?

The Healthy Cities and Communities initiative initiative vision is to improve consumer well-being holistically (body, mind, spirit) enabling people to live longer and fuller lives in their respective communities. The initiative’s mission is to empower consumers to achieve an improved state of physical and mental well-being via lifestyle choices. As such, the need for symbiosis between urban planning, economic development and preventative health has never been greater.

We invite you to use the links below and collaborate via the Healthy Cities and Communities platform to:

• Launch and scale healthy living interventions in cities across the world
• Share learnings and best practices with relevant stakeholders from the private and public sectors

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