AUSTRALIA is becoming an increasingly unhealthy society, with almost two in three Australian adults now overweight or obese, and almost one in five experiencing some form of mental illness every year, according to the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA).
However, the nation's peak town planning body said it has a new angle on how to reverse this trend, adding that there is a growing body of evidence that indicates the built environment – such as streets, neighbourhoods, towns and cities – has a significant influence on wellbeing.
The Institute said that when designed to facilitate physical and social activity, improve access to healthy food, and foster integration and a sense of belonging, the environments in which we live, work and play give rise to happier and healthier people.
This is the premise behind the recently-released Healthy Communities position statement, described by PIA CEO Kirsty Kelly as a call to action for planners and urban designers around Australia to creatively and collectively address the sedentary lifestyle of our communities.
The position statement encourages the integration of a set of principles whenever planners and designers plan new settlements and suburbs or redesign and renew existing ones.
"This means encouraging and supporting the development of environments that promote physical activity, healthy eating and social and mental wellbeing. It means considering health perspectives throughout the planning process, and incorporating community health and wellbeing as integral objectives and outcomes in planning legislation and policy frameworks," the Institute said.
"A key to success will be educating relevant disciplines on how and why they should help shape healthy communities. Whether it is through interdisciplinary planning and design processes; through professional development; or through the creation of planning documentation that teach planners, political decision-makers and the community on the correlation between healthy spaces and places and healthy people.
"The responsibility does not lie solely with planners, of course. Success will emerge only through effective collaboration with myriad other professions and sectors, including service agencies, health professionals, engineers, architects, economists and government.
Ms Kelly said the position statement serves as a blueprint and a call to action for all these professionals to address – collectively and cooperatively – Australia's damaging and growing health problem through their work.