Combat Obesity By Creating Healthy Residential Environments

Armen Hareyan's picture

Residents living in high-walkability neighborhoods are more likely to engage in regular moderate physical activity than residents located in a low-walkability neighbourhood.

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In the physical activity and public health research arena, the interest in the immediate housing and residential neighborhood environment (e.g. crime rates, road safety, street connectivity, footpaths and cycle ways, design and maintenance of neighborhood, visibility of stairs, central shopping facilities, availability of physical recreation facilities) is relatively new.

Moreover, studies underline that an unsafe and unpleasant residential area may deter people from walking around their local neighborhood and engaging in leisure-time exercise. For this reason physical activity, and per consequence, obesity prevalence rates at the population level may not improve until neighborhoods are made more walkable and usable for leisure-time physical activities.

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With support from the German ministry of health, the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health/Bonn Office has conducted a pan-European review of interventions to create physical activity promoting residential environments as part of the project "Tackling obesity by creating healthy residential environments".

Countries often lack practical examples of successful approaches to creating residential environments that facilitate an active lifestyle. The importance of the built environment, and specifically the residential neighborhood, for physical activity is increasingly recognized but the integration of such concerns into urban planning and housing policies has yet to develop.

To support this process and provide first recommendations at the implementation level, this project aims to review existing interventions and initiatives in order to compile a set of case studies on how to improve residential neighborhoods conducive to participation in physical activity and reduction of obesity.

The project aimed to identify some of the suitable ways forward for addressing the health effects of the residential environment, by reviewing the relationship between the design and the quality of the residential neighborhood and the opportunities for physical activity. Emphasis was put on the identification and dissemination of best-practice examples of the improvement of residential environments (walkability, sense of security etc.), and their impact on physical activity and the reduction of obesity.

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