NIEHS and American Public Health Association Sponsor Program Linking Built Environment and Public Health
In an effort to better understand the linkage between community design and its impact on public health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, in conjunction with the American Public Health Association's Built Environment Institute, is sponsoring a three-day program titled "Health by Design: Identifying Approaches For Building Sustainable Environments That Actively Improve Human Health."
The program, which will be held at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting November 16 - 19 in San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center, will bring together scientists, public health officials and members of the general public for a series of scientific sessions and symposia on the relationship between community development and disease endpoints such as obesity and high blood pressure.
The Built Environment Institute is an organization developed by the Environment Section of the American Public Health Association to assist in the identification of planning, design and lifestyle choices that would promote healthy and sustainable living, and more human-focused growth. Identifying mechanisms by which the built environment adversely impacts health and identifying appropriate interventions that reduce or eliminate harmful health effects are core Institute objectives.
"This three-day program will give participants a chance to better understand the important issues related to measuring and modeling the health impact of the built environment, and to identify opportunities and challenges faced by architects, planners and developers in designing and building healthy and sustainable human-focused communities," said Neal Rosenblatt, M.S., epidemiologist and acting health program administrator with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, and chair of the Built Environment Institute.
Following a field trip on Sunday, November 16 to explore green design methods used in the construction of the San Francisco Main Library and learn about the master plan for a dynamic, mixed-use neighborhood on the site of the former Hunter's Point Shipyard, the Monday program will feature an interactive roundtable discussion on the impact of urban sprawl, neighborhood design and land use on public health.
In this session, presenters will highlight the relationship between community design and physical activity, review the impact of community design on air pollution, explore the connection between social equity and community design decisions, and discuss issues faced by developers who are trying to build healthy communities.
Also scheduled for November 17 will be a special session on the impact of the indoor environment on human health. In this session, participants will discuss specific health hazards which relate to housing and the indoor environment, such as exposure to lead, allergens that cause or exacerbate asthma, molds and fungi, rodent and insect pests, pesticide residues, and indoor air pollution.
The program will conclude November 18 with three afternoon sessions that articulate the vision of "healthy people in healthy communities" outlined in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 document. In the first session, presenters will provide a framework for the creation of a solid scientific base from which to determine environmental and human health impacts from chronic exposure to the built environment.
The second session will focus on the potential for building models that would allow an assessment of the health impacts of community design choices. Participants will also discuss possibilities for developing guidelines that address healthy choices in community design, along with key issues involved in comparing designs from different communities. The final session will address policy and economic issues associated with creating sustainable communities.
In a landmark study published earlier this year, University of Maryland researchers used data provided by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention to look at health characteristics of more than 200,000 individuals living in 448 U.S. counties in major metropolitan areas. Using U.S. Census and other federal data, the researchers assessed the degree of sprawl development spread-out communities in which the homes are relatively far from shops, restaurants and other destinations within each county.
The study found that as the degree of sprawl increased, so too did the chances that residents living in these areas would be obese or have high blood pressure. In fact, people living in the most sprawling communities were likely to weigh an average of six pounds more than residents living in the most compact communities, perhaps because the people in sprawling environments have fewer chances to stay fit through routine physical activity.
"The built environment plays a significant role in chronic illnesses such as obesity, asthma and cardiovascular disease," said co-moderator Allen Dearry, Ph.D., director of NIEHS' Division of Research Coordination, Planning and Translation. "Communities, biomedical scientists, planners and policy makers need to work together to identify the mechanisms by which the built environment impacts human health, and to develop appropriate interventions to reduce or eliminate its harmful effects."
NIEHS is also sponsoring a related conference that will be held May 24 - 26, 2004, in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. Titled "Obesity and the Built Environment: Improving Public Health Through Community Design," the conference will focus on the complex relationship between obesity and the built environment at several different levels urban and suburban settings, rural communities, school environments, and work sites.