NSW Health officials have launched a new initiative with UNSW planning experts at the University of New South Wales to investigate relationships between health and the built environment.
The UNSW City Futures Research Centre has won $1.5m in funding from the NSW Health Department to set up the NSW Healthy Built Environments Program (HBEP), the first such collaboration between health officials and planning academics.
As Australia faces increasing health costs from an ageing population and rising rates of obesity, diabetes and lifestyle diseases, health workers are seeking to influence the design of cities to make them more supportive of healthy ways of living.
Urban planners from the City Futures Research Centre will undertake a wide-ranging investigation to learn how changes to urban design and planning can improve health in NSW.
Launching the new program, NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Health Carmel Tebbutt said planning requirements had changed considerably in recent years to take into account factors such as promoting social welfare and building cohesive communities.
"This program will take the next step, and examine how design and environmental factors such as access to public transport, car dependency, the amount of green space, and number of cycleways and walking paths influence the health of residents," Ms Tebbutt said.
HBEP Co-Director Associate Professor Susan Thompson said there was a global trend among health professionals to look beyond the health sector for solutions to lifestyle-related diseases.
Associate Professor Thompson said her group will develop new guidelines for healthy urban design that assist health professionals to work closely with planners and developers.
"This is about physical activity every day, not necessarily exercise. It's not about providing gyms, it's about everyday living," she said.
UNSW Faculty of Built Environment Dean, Professor Alec Tzannes, said the collaboration with NSW Health would enable leading edge research into health and the built environment.
"I am delighted because this is the first time in Australia that a built environment faculty has been funded by the health system to undertake this vital work," he said.
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