During the 20th century the UK was a world leader in improving the health of children and young people. Today, however, there are alarming signs that things have gone badly wrong.

Almost a third of all children in England are overweight by the time they leave primary school, and this is likely to blight their health for the rest of their lives. Mental health illnesses are a leading cause of health-related disabilities among children and young people, according to Public Health England. And earlier this month the UK slipped from 11th to 156th place in the annual global ranking of countries that support kids’ rights, published by the international Kids Rights Foundation. Added to which, the ‘State of Child Health 2017’ report says that, ‘some of the outcomes amongst our deprived groups are amongst the worst in the developed world’.

What has this got to do with the built environment? Since Prof. Michael Marmot published his report, ‘Fair society, healthy lives’ seven years ago, there has been a renewed awareness that whether or not a person is well is, to a very large extent, determined by the environment in which they live. Our homes and neighbourhoods have a profound effect on our health – and this is particularly true for children and young people, who have little choice about their surroundings.

For the last four years the TCPA has been bringing together planners and public health teams around the UK to help them collaborate to create healthy places, as part of our ‘Reuniting health with planning’ workstream. We’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of the built environment on young people’s lives – and the way in which their views and needs are almost entirely absent from the policies, processes and decisions that cumulatively create our neighbourhoods.

This has to change. As a matter of social justice it is wrong that some children will grow up to be ill, with diminished opportunities, simply because of where they live. As a matter of economics, we cannot afford to create generations of people who will need completely avoidable long-term treatment from the NHS.

What can we all do? This is the theme of the TCPA’s conference, ‘Creating great places for happy, healthy kids’, which takes place next month. With speakers from the worlds of public health, urban design, the natural environment, planning and play, we’ll be setting an agenda for change. I hope that you will join us. To find out more see here: Creating Great Places for Happy, Healthy Kids