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Built and natural environment planning principles for promoting health: an umbrella review

  • Author(s)/Creator(s):
    E. L. Bird, J. O. Ige, P. Pilkington, A. Pinto, C. Petrokofsky & J. Burgess-Allen
  • Publisher(s)/Producter(s):
    BMC Public Health

The built and natural environment and health are inextricably linked. However, there is considerable debate surrounding the strength and quality of the evidence base underpinning principles of good practice for built and natural environment design in promoting health. This umbrella review aimed to assess relationships between the built and natural environment and health, concentrating on five topic areas: neighbourhood design, housing, food environment, natural and sustainable environment, and transport.

A structured search was conducted for quantitative systematic reviews and stakeholder reviews published between January 2005 and April 2016. Seven databases and the websites of 15 relevant and respected stakeholder organisations known to publish review-level documentation were searched. Searches were limited to English-language publications and duplicate references were removed. Evidence quality and strength was appraised using validated techniques. Findings were used to develop a diagram for each topic area, illustrating relationships between built and natural environment planning principles and health-related outcomes.

A total of 117 systematic reviews and review-level documents were eligible for inclusion. The quality of evidence was mixed; much of the evidence examined relied on findings from cross-sectional studies, making it difficult to draw clear causal links between built environment exposures and health-related impacts and outcomes. Fourteen actionable planning principles associated with positive health-related outcomes were identified across the five topic areas. For example, neighbourhoods that enhanced walkability, were complete and compact in design, and those which enhanced connectivity through safe and efficient infrastructure were associated with better health-related outcomes relating to physical activity, social engagement, mental health, perceptions of crime, and road traffic collisions. Evidence for the effectiveness of planning principles across different topic areas and on reducing health inequalities was sparse and inconclusive.

Findings provide an up-to-date overview of relationships between the built and natural environment and health and present logical, evidence-based messages to aid communication between public health and planning professionals.

Public Health England
Policy Quality
Household and Residential
Industry and Economy