A new series of papers published in ‘The Lancet’ suggests that changes to city design and transport can have "significant" impact on health including reductions in non-communicable diseases.
The study, conducted in cities across the world including London, Boston and New Delhi, quantifies the health gains that could be achieved if cities incentivised a shift from private car use to cycling and walking and promoted a compact city model.
"These changes could achieve significant reductions in non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as increasing physical activity and reducing pollution.
"Importantly, in cities with high levels of private car use such as Melbourne, London and Boston, promoting walking and cycling must be matched by improvements to infrastructure that separate motorised transport to protect cyclists and pedestrians from road injuries," the authors said.
The new series on urban design, transport and health was led by the University of Melbourne (Australia) and the University of California, San Diego.
The authors note that more than half of the global population lives in cities and rapid urbanisation is only expected to increase in the coming years.
"By 2050, large cities in the US, China and India are predicted to see their populations increase by 33 per cent, 38 per cent and 96 per cent respectively. Population growth in cities means increasing demands on transport systems," it said.
‘Compact cities model’
Series lead Professor Mark Stevenson created a "compact cities model", which allowed them to estimate how a 30 per cent increase in density and diversity of land use and a 30 per cent reduction in average distance to public transport might impact the physical activity and health of city populations.
On applying the model to six cities - Melbourne, London, Boston, Sao Paulo, Copenhagen, and Delhi - the researchers saw a rise in physical activity levels, a reduction in air pollution, and a fall in cardiovascular disease (CVD).
London saw a 13 per cent fall in CVD burden and a 7 per cent reduction in the burden of type 2 diabetes with the model, while Melbourne saw a 19 per cent and 14 per cent fall, respectively.
A continuing challenge is to improve the communication of this evidence to city leaders and find incentives for them to seek out and apply the evidence,' said series author professor James Sallis, University of California, San Diego
Author Billie Giles-Corti of the University of Melbourne said that the world's population is estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050, and three-quarters of this population living in cities.
"City planning was key to cutting infectious disease outbreaks in the 19th century through improved sanitation, housing and separating residential and industrial areas.
"Today, there is a real opportunity for city planning to reduce non-communicable diseases and road trauma and to promote health and well-being more broadly," he said.
The authors identify key interventions that, when combined, encourage walking, cycling and public transport use, while reducing private car use.
The authors note that a number of cities - including London, Stockholm, and Bogota - have succeeded in shifting from driving to walking or cycling.
"City planning policies can affect health, both positively and negatively. Sadly, it is clear that many city leaders around the world are not applying the lessons of research to make cities as healthy as possible.
"A continuing challenge is to improve the communication of this evidence to city leaders and find incentives for them to seek out and apply the evidence," said series author professor James Sallis, University of California, San Diego.
(WION with inputs from PTI)