Tackling obesity by creating healthy residential environments




Increasing obesity rates are a serious public health issue in the WHO European Region. Physical inactivity plays a key role in the development of obesity. The design and quality of the residential environment in turn affects physical activity.

The WHO European Centre for Environment and Health conducted the project “Tackling obesity by creating healthy residential environments” in 2006-07 with support from the German Ministry of Health. Overall project findings confirm that various characteristics of the residential environment can promote physical activity, such as aesthetically pleasing neighbourhoods, access to physical activity facilities, density, land use mix, street connectivity, opportunities for public transport (including active commuting) and perceived safety in the neighbourhood. There are a number of local community interventions addressing these factors, but only a few are adequately evaluated. Different resident groups, as well as key stakeholders from governmental, nongovernmental and private industry organizations in different sectors, need to be involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of activity-promoting interventions. National and local-level political commitment from key decision-makers and long-term funding are crucial for successful and sustainable implementation of interventions.

Project components include: (a) a review of the literature on relationships between the residential environment, physical activity and obesity; (b) a European review of interventions to create residential environments that support physical activity, including the compilation of European case studies; (c) an expert meeting to discuss the literature evidence as well as selected European case studies; and (d) a secondary analysis of the WHO LARES (Large Analysis and Review of European housing and health Status) survey regarding the association between the built environment and socioeconomic factors with physical activity, overweight and obesity.