Planning for Health

Planning for Health

The strategies used to plan cities, towns, and communities has a direct impact on public health. Whether or not your community has well maintained sidewalks, or has mixed used development, impacts whether or not people are able to walk to local businesses and increase their physical activity. The decisions leaders make regarding land use and urban design are “linked to some of the nation's most intractable public health problems, including adult and childhood obesity, cancer, respiratory problems, and environmental justice ” (American Planning Association [1]). Planners shape the places we live. By considering the health impacts of their decisions, they can also plan for health. Planning for health isn’t just a goal nationally, but even internationally, [2] because of what a meaningful impact the built environment has on the health and safety of communities.

Implementation Strategies

+ Comprehensive Plans

A comprehensive plan is a local government's guide to community physical, social, and economic development. It is a long-range planning tool, which provides a basis for local land use decisions, and future planning and community decisions3.

  • Across the U.S., local governments are beginning to include goals and objectives that promote public health into their comprehensive plans. These long-term plans impact how people make choices of where to live and how to get around, their ability to access healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity, and affect broader issues of social equity, clean air and water, and more [4].

+ Land Use, Transportation, Parks and Rec and Bike and Pedestrian Plans

Different types of plans can all have impacts on the public health effects of built environments because they determine whether or not built environments increase access to active transportation, healthy foods and increase physical activity.

  • Health can be improved through land use policies, e.g. reduced injury, increased physical activity, reduced emissions and access to community resources such as health care and healthy food [5].
  • Another example of planning for health is when Parks and Public health work together. This collaboration can allow many different benefits to be realized such as increased physical activity, improved mental health, increased connection with nature, and safer spaces for recreation [6]

+ Zoning Comissionss

Zoning Commissions help decide how an area is zoned. Decisions like where to put businesses, or whether to pursue mixed used development are decisions a zoning or planning commission might help make.

  • How an area is zoned is an integral part of creating safe, attractive and healthy built environments. What buildings are near each other, where certain types of industry are sited and what structures are allowed all impact public health.
  • The presence of bike-lanes, sidewalks and cross walks all can make zoning more pedestrian oriented. Increasing active travel and transport can help improve the health of your community [7].

+ Local/Regional Food Council

Many people live in neighborhoods without access to a full-service grocery stores, especially those living in low income or rural areas. Lack of access to grocery stores means relying on convenience stores which often only have nutrient poor high calorie foods available [8]

  • Increasing access to grocery stores is an effective strategy because better access to grocery stores means healthier eating. Some studies have found that people who have greater access to supermarkets or a greater abundance of healthy foods in neighborhood food stores consume more fresh produce and other healthful items. This policy addresses a serious issue since many Americans live in food desserts where “nutritious, affordable and high quality food is largely missing [9]

+ Resources