Project details

Funding body: Wellcome Trust under the 'Our Planet, Our Health' call


  • University of Bath
  • University of Washington
  • United Nations University
  • Daniel Black + Associates (db+a)

Dates: 1 February 2016 - 1 February 2019

Project summary

The relationship between the built environment and health is complex. Research in this area does not yield clear results from methods relying solely on linear causality. However, a consensus is beginning to emerge, particularly around the need for whole-systems analysis. Decision makers are increasingly recognising the importance of investing in cross-cutting strategies, comprehensive stakeholder analysis and interdisciplinary co-production.

By addressing the urban environment rather than narrowly focusing on healthcare, effective solutions are more likely to be found. Research evidence demonstrating that the physical environment has a direct impact on health is growing. Examples of specific links include:

  • density of urban area and car use
  • walking, body weight and carbon emissions
  • quality green spaces, social interaction, greater physical activity and health inequalities
  • land use, connectivity, population density, overall neighbourhood design and physical inactivity
  • active travel and stress.

Though still outside mainstream indices of growth, economic valuation methods attempt to quantify these external costs, linking the quality of urban environment with consumptive behaviours: eg the £10.7 bn annual cost of physical inactivity to the NHS for the treatment of non-communicable diseases; £1.12 trn willingness of OECD member states to pay for prevention of 3.5 m deaths caused by air pollution; £1.3 bn annual damages to UK properties from fluvial and coastal flooding; £740 m cost of UK floods in 2007; £4.5 bn cost of flooding to insurers since 2000; £14 trn estimated cost of global biodiversity decline by 2050.

The aim of the project is to make current and future health impacts a priority for strategic decision-makers in urban development planning.

Please email Dr Ben Williams at for more details.

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