Land use and zoning decisions not only impact exposure to pollutants and hazards, but accessibility to health-promoting resources, such as parks or grocery stores. In fact, research has shown that behavior and environment account for 70% of factors that influence health – significantly more than medical care (10%) or genetics (20%) (Prevention Institute). This means that there is a huge opportunity to impact public health through the built environment.
Planning for public health goes hand-in-hand with the projects, programs, and plans we already develop in our communities and regions. And, there are many co-benefits of implementing strategies that improve health, such as climate change mitigation. A study in the California Bay Area demonstrated the ability to meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2050 through active transportation (walking, biking, etc.), as opposed to focusing on increasing electric vehicles and other more conventional approaches. In addition to improving transportation options, this solution to reducing emissions results in health benefits including a 13% reduction in cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduction in diabetes, and a 7% reduction in depression (PHASOCAL).
Planners can play a role in influencing whether individuals choose a healthy choice – such as active transportation – by addressing some of the external factors that influence decision making. For example, planners can work to remove barriers such as inadequate infrastructure, safety concerns, and proximity of desired destinations.
Visit Plan4Health, the Public Health Alliance of Southern California, and the Prevention Institute, for tools, research, and best practices. Interested in connecting with your regional public health network in New Hampshire? Visit https://nhphn.org/.