Design of Our Living Space Is a Health Issue; Dr Yi Gong Discusses Her Research Linking Public Health and Urban Planning
THE historical connection between public health and urban planning can be dated back to the sanitary movement to prevent outbreaks of infectious disease, such as cholera and tuberculosis, in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
However, through much of the 20th century, the two areas have drifted apart, with different outlooks and goals. Public health focused on biological mechanisms of illness and disease, while planning focused on economic development. In the 21st century we are beginning to realise that this separation had negative consequences for our health, for example, contributing to modern public health crises such as obesity, depression and asthma.
How places are designed and built is one of the major determinants of the health of individuals and whole populations, and of health inequalities.
Walking and cycling can be seen in places that are well designed and connected, which is directly related to higher levels of physical activity, and less traffic, air and noise pollution.
Although this conclusion can seem self-evident, our understanding of the detail is still limited.
My research is trying to understand the relationships between place, behaviour and health. The puzzle is how to maximise health benefits when areas of trade off need to be considered.
For example, having shops and green space within walking distance is one way to tackle the obesity epidemic.
However, while sprawling suburban cul-de-sacs do not always provide this access, this design protects the neighbourhood residents from traffic and can also encourage social interactions and strengthen the sense of belonging, which will positively influence mental health and wellbeing. …