Current Issue #488

Our Health & Wellbeing starts with our environments

Our Health & Wellbeing starts with our environments

How much does where you live, and how you live, impact on your wellbeing? Did you know that your postcode could be an indicator of how healthy you are?

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates the built environment – that is, our streets, neighbourhoods, towns and cities – has a considerable influence on our health and wellbeing. When designed to facilitate physical and social activity, improve access to healthy food, and foster integration and a sense of belonging, the environments in which we live, work and play give rise to happier and healthier people.

This has been verified by the Lancet (September 2016) in its series ‘Urban Design, transport and health’ that identified that living in an active-friendly neighbourhood could mean people take up to 90 minutes more exercise per week. With physical inactivity responsible for over five-million deaths per year, creating healthier cities is an important part of the public health response to the global disease burden of physical inactivity. Around 60 per cent of Australian adults do not meet physical activity guidelines, putting them at increased risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.

Chronic disease is not just a health issue but has detrimental impacts on the economic sustainability of our nation. The World Health Organisation identified that economic analysis suggests that each 10 per cent rise in chronic diseases is associated with 0.5 per cent lower rates of annual economic growth. It has been estimated that physical inactivity costs the Australian healthcare system $1.5 billion annually, with the cost of obesity estimated at $8.3 billion.

So where do planning professionals fit into this? To date, a key limitation has been the absence of guidance and practical tools to assist local government planners, urban designers and developers in how to integrate evidence on health impacts into the master planning and design process.

In response, the Heart Foundation has collaborated with government departments (Planning, Health, Transport, and Sport and Recreation) as well as the Planning Institute of Australia, LandCorp, Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority and UWA’s Centre for Built Environment and Health to develop Healthy Active by Design (HAbD).

HAbD was originally launched in 2014 in Western Australia by the Heart Foundation as a result of six years formative, consultative and development work involving numerous stakeholders across planning, transport, sport and recreation and health sectors. Since then, the Heart Foundation has prioritised its work in health and the built environment and the resource is now a national program.

The HAbD Tool takes complex interactions and provides a few simple strategies and tools to provide online guidance to planners and other professionals who work in the built environment on how best to incorporate health considerations into urban planning. Organised around eight built environment features (such as public open space, the movement network, buildings and schools) the website provides guidance across the spectrum from evidence, to policy, case studies, international examples and practical tools.

This resource is the first online tool that enables planners, developers, sport and recreation and health professionals to unite in designing locally inspired healthy and active communities. It is also supported and sustained by a collaborative implementation strategy which addresses the current health crisis of preventable chronic diseases and acknowledges the link between these, the way we live and the places we build.

Trevor Shilton is Director Cardiovascular Health, National Heart Foundation of Australia
Emma de Jager
is Executive Officer of PIA, Western Australia and South Australia


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