Urban design - the remedy for poor health
23 July 2007
Our Building Health report explains how transport and planning policies are creating places that discourage physical activity and sets out a blueprint for action.
Transport and planning policies are creating places that discourage physical activity and contribute to heart disease and rising obesity rates, according to a report released today by the National Heart Forum, Living Streets and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE).
Sprawling suburbs can lead to spreading waistlines: the layout of towns, cities and buildings influence the amount of exercise which people take naturally in their daily lives. The report, Building health, provides a blueprint for action, including changing transport policies in which 'the car is king', and locating housing, shops and services to encourage walking and cycling. With three million new homes being built by 2020, planning and design decisions made now will affect the shape of communities and public health for decades to come.
European cities such as Copenhagen have proved that it is possible to have thriving city centres which cater fully for pedestrians and cyclists, making healthy living seem the easy option.
The recommendations are aimed at policymakers, planners, architects and transport professionals in the UK. Practical recommendations for new ministers include a 'health check' on every investment programme, to assess its impact on levels of physical activity and other aspects of health; strengthening guidelines for key strategic planning documents to make health and physical activity a key goal alongside sustainable development; and integrating health promotion principles into the training of built environment professionals such as highways and transport engineers and town planners.
The report argues that the investment in regenerating East London for the 2012 Olympics must create a legacy of more opportunities for everyday physical activity in the new built environment being created.
Paul Lincoln of the National Heart Forum says it is important that the active and healthy choice should be the easy choice. 'The human body is designed to be active' he says, 'and the growing rates of obesity and other chronic diseases are a natural reaction to the alien environment we have created by engineering out physical activity.'
The Prime Minister has proposed an investment of £100m in five hours of PE a week for school children, to foster a new generation of great athletes. Young people who will never be athletic, and who are at greater risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, will however become healthier through well designed school buildings and playgrounds, interesting walking and cycling routes to school, and opportunities for informal play and other outdoor after-school activities.
'Active lifestyles cannot be separated from the design of our streets, towns and cities,' points out Tom Franklin of Living Streets. 'They are part of the bricks and mortar of our everyday lives.'
Richard Simmons of CABE argues that more investment was needed in the creation of high quality built environments. If just a small percentage of the money spent on treating obesity related diseases was spent on preventing them in the first place, a lot of public money would be saved.
The recommendations in the Blueprint for action will form the basis for a continuing advocacy campaign. Government must work across departments, and with public health professionals, local authorities and the planning, development and architecture professions, to find innovative ways to make it easier for people to be active every day.