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New research project to uncover barriers to creating healthier places

Posted: 5th April 2017

A collaborative national research survey is underway to better understand the barriers that stop built environment professionals from creating healthier places through their work.

Some of the country’s most pressing health challenges, such as obesity, mental health issues, physical inactivity and the needs of an ageing population, are influenced by our physical environment. With mounting pressure on health and social care services across the UK, preventable diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes continue to account for a large proportion of hospital admissions and care costs. Diabetes UK, for example, reports that around 700 people a day are diagnosed with diabetes, the equivalent of one person every two minutes.

Launched today as part of the new research project Creating Healthy Places undertaken by Design Council and Social Change UK, the large-scale survey will explore the role of professionals such as architects, urban designers, highways engineers and town planners in addressing health challenges in the UK. Its objective is to find out what hinders them in creating places that could help people of all ages and backgrounds lead healthy, active lives, eat well and enjoy their social lives.

Clare Devine, Design Council’s Executive Director for Architecture, Built Environment and Design, believes creating healthier places in which to live and work is an important part of reducing the burden of preventable diseases on individuals, public services and the wider economy.

Devine explained: “There are many good examples of how designers are shaping places that help us all to live healthier and happier lives. However, despite the growing evidence of the vital role placemaking can play in improving health, we are not seeing healthy environments being created at the scale required. We instigated this research as now is the time to tackle these issues through the way we shape our buildings, streets, parks and neighbourhoods.”

Disparities in health have led to nearly 17-year differences in ‘healthy life expectancy’ – time living in good health – between different groups of people across the UK, with those living in the most deprived areas living fewer years overall and more years in poor health. The findings of the research will inform future work to help tackle public health issues such as this through development and regeneration.

Kelly Evans, Social Change UK, said: “While there are many factors that influence the long-term health and wellbeing of the population, a growing body of evidence is showing how the places that people use in their daily lives affect their physical and mental health. We want to know what professionals are doing to help make a positive impact on people and communities – or what is stopping them from putting health into their design plans.”

The survey launches today (31 March 2017) and is open for four weeks, with telephone interviews carried out during April. The results will be publically available in June 2017. If you are a built environment professional this is an opportunity to share your experiences and opinions on this vital matter.

For more information and to take part in the survey please click here.