The design and planning of cities influence the health and well-being of the people living in urban spaces. Life expectancy can vary between neighbourhoods based on the socio-economic conditions, environmental factors can have positive or negative influences on health. The exact mechanism by which the urban environment impacts on health is not yet fully understood. Answering this question is important to improve the health of the population but also to inform city planners who create the cities of the future.


Children’s Places: how they shape health and influence social and economic outcomes

Childhood is a fundamental life stage for human capital formation, which, in turn, is a key determinant of productivity, economic growth and social development. Children split their time between multiple places and communities, both physical and virtual (online). Each of these places generates influences - sometimes positive, sometimes negative - on their health.

The Children’s Places project investigates how characteristics of the different places where children spend their time (including home, school and social networks) may influence their health and behaviours, generating impacts on education and skills development. We apply novel approaches, combining spatial databases on health-relevant place-based characteristics, advanced geospatial methods, routinely collected population-level educational attainment information from the Department for Education, and the newest developments in mathematical modelling.

We actively engage with teenagers throughout the project via focus groups and workshops.

Our results will set the foundation for future research linking place-based measures of health with place-based social and economic outcomes. This will strengthen the public health approach to health promotion, emphasising the social and economic value, in addition to the health value of actions aimed at making living environments more conducive to healthy lives.

The public beneficiaries of this work will be foremost secondary school children, their parents and the wider community by providing evidence to policy makers as to which health-related aspects of the environment impact educational attainment and consequent social and economic outcomes.

Funding: This project has received funding from the Health Foundation.

Childrens Places Privacy Notice (PDF) This document explains how we use educational attainment data and how we keep it safe.

Science and Technology in childhood Obesity Policy - STOP

The growing rate of children with overweight and obesity is the most important preventable public health crisis of the 21st century, with serious health, social and economic implications.

Over a four-year period (2018-22), the STOP project will generate scientifically sound, novel and policy-relevant evidence on the factors that have contributed to the spread of childhood obesity in European countries and on the effects of alternative technological and organisational solutions and policy options available to address the problem.

Geospatial Health Group is leading work on links between characteristics of the built environment, physical activity levels in children and obesity. Key aspects of this work are the characterisation of the obesogenic neighbourhoods (including food environment, walkability, green spaces and sport facilities) and the assessment of associations between physical neighbourhood characteristics and obesity.

Funding: This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 774548.

Understanding effect modifiers of the relationship between health and exposure to natural environments

Empirical evidence highlights the ability of natural environments to positively impact health, however, evidence is inconclusive. This project identifies and assesses understudied potential effect modifiers of the relationship between urban greenspace and health. Potential effect modifiers include biodiversity, green and blue space interactions, and the presence of traffic nearby natural environments. The identification of potential effect modifiers of the relationship between greenspace and health is important to maximise benefits to public health by prioritising existing greenspaces for protection or modification, and in designing new greenspaces. This knowledge is important given the decline in greenspace per capita across European cities.

Funding: This PhD project by PhD candidate Richard Belcher is supported by NERC via a Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership in collaboration with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Greenspace and cardiovascular health outcomes in UK Biobank participants

Urban greenspace is hypothesised to protect cardiovascular health via multiple mechanistic pathways, including the environmental pathway, via which greenspace is hypothesised to reduce exposure to harmful pollutants; and the physiological pathway, via which accessible greenspace is hypothesised to facilitate physical activity (e.g., walking).

We developed novel pathway-specific exposure metrics including ‘green walkability’, and greenspace function and applied them to participants of a large, adult cohort – UK Biobank. Using survival analyses, we examined the associations of greenspace with cardiovascular, respiratory and non-injury mortality, adjusting for relevant individual- and area-level confounders.

Funding: This PhD project by Charlie Roscoe was funded by the Medical Research Council

Urban Form and health

The project assessed the influence of urban form and structure on the health of city dwellers using GIS-based measures such as road junction density, relative distribution of land cover classes. We found an association between transport patterns and risk of premature mortality. Associations between urban form and mortality observed in this study suggest that characteristics of city structure might have negative effects on the overall health of urban communities. Future urban planning and regeneration strategies can benefit from such knowledge to promote a healthy living environment for an increasing urban population.

Publication: Fecht D, Fortunato L, Morley D, Hansell AL, Gulliver J. Associations between urban metrics and mortality rates in England. Environmental Health 2016; 15:S34; doi: https://10.1186/s12940-016-0106-3