Making changes to city design and transport worldwide could lower rates of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, new research shows.
A study team led by the University of Melbourne report that global population increases will lead to raised air pollution and road accidents and less physical activity, which contributes to rising rates of chronic disease and injury.
The United Nations (UN) Department of Economic and Social Affairs expects the world population to rise by more than two billion by 2050, reaching just under 10 billion.
“We concluded that focusing on walking and cycling infrastructure alone is critical but not enough,” said study co-author Professor Billie Giles-Corti.
“To create cities that promote health needs joined-up policies and input across multiple sectors: land use, transport, housing, economic development, urban desig, health and community services, and public safety.”
In this three-part series, researchers found that encouraging cycling or walking and changing city design and transport could have significant effects on disease outcomes.
Professor Mark Stevenson led a team that created a “compact cities model”, which helped them estimate how a 30 per cent increase in land use and 30 per cent reduction in average distance to public transport could affect physical activity and health.
They applied the model to six cities: London, Copenhage, Delhi, Bosto, Sao Paulo and Melbourne, and also assessed the effects of a 10 per cent shift in the use of private cars to cycling or walking.
Stevenson and colleagues observed that when the model was applied, there was a reduction in type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in all areas. There was also a rise in physical activity and less air pollution.
When the model was applied to London, the city had a seven per cent reduction in type 2 diabetes rates and a 13 per cent fall in incidences of cardiovascular disease.
Stevenson said: “The effect of interventions that encourage cycling and walking was particularly evident in highly motorized cities such as Melbourne, London and Bosto, and underscores the importance of transport policies, pricing and regulation that encourage active transport via cycling, walking and public transport while discouraging private car use.
“These changes also need to be matched by improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to protect cyclists and pedestrians. Our study shows that these changes at city level could lead to real health gains.”
The findings were published in The Lancet.

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