Australian evidence shows that neighbourhoods designed to reduce carbon footprints through facilitating active living could reduce the risk of overweight/obesity.
For the attention of: Municipal planning officers and Directors of Public Health.
The problem: Cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes contribute significantly to the global burden of disease. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor of such chronic diseases. Since physical inactivity is partly attributable to the built environment that encourages car-dependent sedentary lifestyles, low-carbon precinct design, which encourages active modes of travel, can enhance population health. Research is needed to synthesise evidence of low-carbon design attributes that can contribute to reducing chronic disease risk.
What we did and why: We reviewed Australian research published since 2000 to identify what features of low-carbon built environments (such as walkability, density, green space, access to destinations) are associated with cardiometabolic health outcomes (including overweight/obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease). The goal was to provide city planners and public health practitioners with synthesised evidence on health impacts of built environments to inform the design and retrofitting of neighbourhood environments to be sustainable and health-promoting for residents.
What our study adds: Our review identified specific features of low-carbon built environments associated with reduced risk of overweight/obesity for residents, in particular:
- Walkable neighbourhoods (i.e. denser, diverse and connected areas)
- Neighbourhoods with mixed land uses (e.g. residential, commercial and other uses)
- Neighbourhoods with supportive infrastructure for walking and cycling
No evidence was found for cardiometabolic health benefits of parks and green space in the context of Australia.
Implications for city policy and practice: Improving the walkability of neighbourhoods, particularly ensuring a mix of land uses, may help to reduce the burden of overweight/obesity amongst Australian adults. Concerted efforts between policymakers across public health, planning and transport sectors are needed to ensure that future urban planning and renewal projects prioritise walkability and related infrastructure to achieve healthy and sustainable cities in Australia.
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