As obesity rates in Europe increase, the World Health Organization (WHO) deplores that only a few residential environment currently meet the recommended criteria to promote an active lifestyle.
A new WHO report identifies the determinants that may encourage or impede physical activity in a residential environment and thereby have an impact on obesity. The study, published in June 2007, comes after two separate WHO reports, which highlighted evidence of the link between physical activity and health and the need to create opportunities for active living in urban environments (see EURACTIV 16/11/06).
Even if the importance of the residential environment in promoting an active lifestyle is increasingly recognised, there is still a lack of integration of such concerns in urban planning. This is why WHO is now seeking to support this process by providing recommendations based on various case-studies.
The study argues that several characteristics of the residential environment – access to physical activity facilities, land-use mix, active transport opportunities and perceived safety in the neighbourhood – have an impact on people’s physical activity level.
The WHO’s recommendations with regard to urban planning differ according to the targeted population. Access to sport facilities close to home is, for example, a major prerequisite for promoting children’s physical activity, whereas for older people it is important that public facilities are at walking distance. According to the report, national and local-level political commitment is crucial for successful and sustainable implementation.
Increasing obesity rates are a serious public health concern in Europe and lack of physical activity is a major determinant of this modern disease. The EU obesity White Paper, adopted in May 2007, highlights the importance of developing physical and social environments that are conducive to physical activity. The White Paper on Sport, adopted on 11 July 2007, includes proposals to enhance public health and tackle obesity through physical activity (see EURACTIV 11/07/07).