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Improving people’s health through spatial planning

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We know that the environment we live in has a huge impact on our health. But did you know the WHO estimates that 23% of global deaths are due to modifiable environmental factors?

Their report which assessed the burden of disease from environmental risks showed us that wherever we live, our health is hugely impacted by our surrounding built and natural environment and moreover, to a significant degree, that premature death and disease can be prevented through healthier environments.

Public Health England recognises that the key to solving this global problem relies on local solutions. Our Healthy Places programme was created in recognition that some of the country’s most pressing health challenges can all be influenced by the quality of our built and natural environment.

In other words, the considerate design of spaces and places can help to promote good health; access to goods and services; and alleviate, or in some cases even prevent, poor health thereby having a positive impact on reducing health inequalities.

Although there is a multitude of guidance supporting and advocating action on the built and natural environment to improve health outcomes, the evidence base underpinning these principles is still a matter of debate amongst the scientific and the practitioner communities.

The subjective and individual nature of the built and natural environment make it difficult to develop evidence-informed approaches that can be universally applied, and successful practices in one community setting may not always be transferrable to another.

With this in mind, PHE has published an evidence resource for public health teams, planners and local communities as a guide to the healthy design of places based on a series evidence-informed principles to improve health.

A rapid evidence review was conducted by the University of West of England to assess the quality and strength of the evidence for planning and designing healthier places focussing on UK research as far as possible.

The review appraised the quality and strength of the available evidence concentrating on five key built environment topics: neighbourhood design, housing, access to healthier food, natural and sustainable environment, and transport.

‘Spatial planning for health:  An evidence resource for planning and designing healthier places’ illustrates the links between these design principles and the health impacts on key health challenges such as obesity, mental health, physical inactivity, the needs of an ageing population and how to promote healthy, sustainable communities.

We have turned this evidence review into a practical resource for planners and public health teams at local level to further support action on the built and natural environment to promote health and help prevent the rise in diseases or conditions such as diabetes, obesity, mental health problems.

This report provides the summary of the findings of the review with easily accessible summary diagrams designed to support solutions at local level.

The diagrams illustrate the linkages and strength of evidence, between spatial planning and health based on the findings of the review. These are intended to support both public health and planning professionals when considering the health impacts of local planning decisions.

While we know the solution to this growing problem is complex, this resource identifies linkages between planning principles, impact and positive health outcomes.

We believe this is the first time such a review has been provided and developed specifically with the aim to support local areas in the preparation of Local Plans that seek to promote improved health outcomes by addressing some of the most significant wider determinants of health – those of the built and natural environment.

You can download the PHE report here.

To download the diagrams developed for each one of the built environment topics separately:

To learn more about the Healthy Places work please join our Healthy People Healthy Places Knowledge Hub at:

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