A Focus on Health and Planning
Research shows that the way we design and build our communities can impact our health. Healthy and active lifestyles can be encouraged by the way we design our streets, parks, recreational facilities and where we locate our homes, schools and retail areas.
In the developed world, we now spend 90% of our time indoors, and we are 80% urbanised. The built environment has become our natural environment, and has a profound influence on our health.1
Although efforts to prevent the spread of communicable disease remains a major focus of public health in many parts of the developing world, attention in affluent countries such as Australia has narrowed to focus on chronic disease. In particular, we are interested in the link between diseases such as heart disease, their risk factors, and broader factors that influences these, including work, education, housing, transport and the urban environment.
The contemporary focus on chronic disease is supported by a strong and growing evidence-base that shows health is socially determined. The Social Determinants of Health model states that a person’s health status is strongly influenced by their social, economic and environmental circumstances. In other words, how and where we live, work, travel and spend our leisure time affects our health status.2
Decisions about how land is used can affect the health of Australians now, and for many generations to come. In the 21st century, town planning decisions can help prevent lifestyle-related diseases through facilitating physical activity, access to healthier food, and positive mental health.
While the Heart Foundation supports the role played by individuals in maintaining good health, we also assert that policy and legislation across all sectors must be oriented to support health and wellbeing. This concept, embedded in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion and described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as healthy public policy, recognises that many of the factors that influence health are situated outside the health sector. Sectors, such as education, transport and planning, impact significantly on the health status of the community, often without realising it.
Chronic disease is not just a health issue, as it has a detrimental impact on the economic sustainability of our nation. WHO suggests that each 10% rise in chronic diseases is associated with 0.5% lower rates of annual economic growth.
Physical inactivity is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers and is associated with more than 5 million deaths per year3 and, as the first global economic analysis of physical inactivity shows, costs the world economy over US$67.5 billion per year in health care costs and lost productivity. In 2013, the total cost burden of physical inactivity on the Australian economy was $805 million, including $640 million in direct costs and $165 million in productivity losses.