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Outdoor environment key to tackling obesity and mental ill health

31 March 2008

The way we plan and use our towns and cities has a critical impact on the health of communities, and could be key to tackling some of Britain's health problems, according to the Sustainable Development Commission.

Although life expectancy in the UK is on the increase, healthy life expectancy is rising more slowly, with mental ill health, obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses an increasing problem. A growing body of evidence suggests that access to green space, a clean and safe environment, and easily accessible services and amenities - from shops and health services to public transport and work - can all have an effect on preventing and alleviating these conditions.

Bringing together international research, Health, place and nature - how outdoor environments influence health and well-being offers sustainability practitioners in the public and private sectors a practical resource focusing on how the outdoor environment affects the health and well-being of their staff and stakeholders. It comprises a wide-ranging knowledge base, and a slide set for practitioners to use in their own presentations.

Evidence suggests that:
• Access to good quality green space - in rural areas and in urban parks, gardens and public spaces - has a positive effect on the physical health and mental well-being of adults and children, and may lead to shorter recovery times from illness
• Environments which facilitate and encourage walking and cycling can increase levels of physical activity and reduce the risk of obesity
• Despite recent improvements, air pollution is estimated to reduce life expectancy by seven to eight months, and cost £20 billion every year
• Lack of accessible services, amenities and public transport links within communities can reinforce the negative health impacts of social exclusion. One in four young people have decided not to apply for a particular job based on lack of transport links, and transport difficulties are believed to lead to over a million people a year people missing, turning down or choosing not to seek medical appointments


Anna Coote, Commissioner for Health at the Sustainable Development Commission, said "The evidence is mounting that the kind of environment we live in can profoundly influence our physical and mental health. Health professionals, planners and architects must work together to make sure our urban and rural spaces work for all the communities they support.

"We hope this information resource will give professionals in health, education, social care, planning and other disciplines the tools to make the case for communities designed around sustainable well-being and improved public health."

» Download Health, place and nature - how outdoor environments influence health and well-being

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Notes to Editors
1. For more information and interviews, contact Rhian Thomas on 020 7270 8539 / 07825 106 803, or email rhian.thomas@sd-commission.gsi.gov.uk
2. The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent advisory body on sustainability issues, made up of 19 Commissioners and chaired by Jonathon Porritt. It reports directly to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland
3. The Sustainable Development Commission's Healthy Futures programme is funded by the Department of Health

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