Planning and community design can affect a community’s health in a variety of ways including influencing physical activity, food and nutrition, air quality, traffic safety, and access to parks and open space.
Along with a healthy diet, physical activity can help protect individuals against many chronic diseases. People can incorporate daily activity into their lives by walking and bicycling to school, work or public transit.
Coupled with declining rates of physical activity, obstacles to accessing healthy and nutritious food have contributed to rising levels of chronic disease, overweight and obesity. Consumption of foods high in fat and calories has soared while access to quality fresh fruits and vegetables has declined.
Air pollution is especially harmful to the elderly and the very young, as well as those who exercise outdoors, have respiratory conditions and spend more time breathing polluted air. This includes people living close to freeways and ports, workers exposed to air pollution at their jobs and those living in homes with compromised indoor air quality.
Policies and design guidelines that facilitate bike and foot travel can save lives and reduce injuries. More than 50 percent of all fatal vehicle crashes occur on wide, high-volume, high-speed arterials. Increasing crosswalk visibility, narrowing arterials, adding shade trees and landscaping, slowing traffic and adding other “traffic-calming” features makes walking safer — a key determinant in people’s activity levels.
Studies show that providing adequate access to safe parks increases physical activity. Residents living close to parks or with access to more parks are more likely to use them and be physically active.