Obesity impacts on health in many ways. It is a cause of coronary heart disease and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, raised blood pressure and colorectal cancer.
Tackling obesity can help to address these health problems and also has wider implications in terms of quality of life, reducing health and social care costs and making economic productivity savings (from reduced obesity related ill health).
Obesity is a complex problem that requires action from individuals and society across multiple sectors. One important action is to modify the environment so that it does not promote sedentary behaviour or provide easy access to energy-dense food.The aim is to help make the healthy choice the easy choice via environmental change and action at population and individual levels.
“Developments should be located and designed where practical to give priority to pedestrian and cycle movements.”
Local authorities have a range of legislative and policy levers, alongside wider influences on healthy lifestyles, which they can use to help create places that support people to maintain a healthy weight. Public Health England suggests that public health professionals should work with their colleagues across local authorities to use these and other approaches to maximise health benefits. Their Healthy People, Healthy Places programme emphasises the role of better planning and design in improving health; they have produced two briefing papers on obesity and the environment.
“In areas of deprivation, obesity levels are 25-30% of the adult population compared to 20-25% in more affluent areas. If those who are overweight are included, the figure rises to 50% of the total adult population.”
Kent JSNA 2012
Options for addressing obesity through planning include:
- Using planning and regulatory measures to address the proliferation of fast food takeaways – many councils are now seeking to limit new hot food takeaways within close proximity to schools for example (see case studies section below).
- Improving access to healthy food (e.g. protecting and delivering allotments and other local food growing sites) – the King’s Fund reports that there is anecdotal evidence that local access to healthy food may improve diets.
- Creating an environment where people actively choose to walk and cycle as part of everyday life (see active travel section).
- Creating safe, accessible and pleasant outdoor spaces including places for children’s play (see active communities section).