Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are a major cause of death and disability around the world, and physical inactivity is one of the main risk factors for NCDs. 23% of global deaths are due to modifiable environmental factors. Research has also shown that the design of urban environments can limit or facilitate people’s ability to be active in their daily lives.
Cities can encourage and increase walkability and bikeability to promote active mobility or create fitness trails which allow individuals to be active in their towns. To address the issues posed by the pandemic and closures of gyms, many municipalities have implemented actions such as organizing events to raise awareness or installing equipment in public spaces, which have proved to have a positive impact on citizens’ levels of physical activity.
WHO Europe’s new publication aims to provide concrete actions on how to develop healthier environments and behaviours in cities through urban planning. Launched during the last HEPA Europe Conference, it highlights the many benefits of proper urban design by sharing concrete examples of best practices. It also offers a reminder of the many benefits of physical activity: not only does it reduce the risks for NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, but it also improves mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, reduces the impact of the physical and mental health consequences of COVID-19, and it results in better overall quality of life. Better urban planning and people-friendly cities would therefore have an enormous impact on populations’ health.
The report is available here.