Novel ways to tackle obesity and create healthy environments

Leading public health policy experts and planners in councils across the country have committed to ensuring that their systems, processes and policies do what they can to promote a healthier environment – particularly towards children.

In 2014, an estimated 62% of the adult population were overweight or obese, with one in three children overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. This is most prevalent in the most deprived 10 percent of the population.

The Town and Country Planning Association and Local Government Association, with support from Public Health England, have today launched a report, Building the foundations: Tackling obesity through planning and development. The report is the result of a workshop series in 2015 demonstrating innovative practice from fourteen local authorities and their partners on how to tackle obesity and other problems by using planning policy and in making decisions on new housing developments.

These local authorities and many others across the country are exhibiting the potential for using the planning system to change health behaviours in terms of promoting active travel and physical activity, encouraging provision and access to local green spaces, and enabling food growing opportunities in allotments but also restricting overconcentration of unhealthy food uses.

The report recommends that local authorities and their partners consider:

  • How to make it easy and natural for people to walk and cycle more in urban areas
  • Guaranteeing that open spaces and parks are easy to get to and safe
  • Ensure that the areas surrounding children are healthy, such as by restricting the number of takeaways near schools
  • How to make high quality public spaces in neighbourhoods, including good healthcare facilities and open spaces
  • How to make sure houses have adequate dining and kitchen facilities to encourage cooking, and outdoor spaces for children to play in 
  • To ensure that there are public facilities such as bike storage and benches to make it easier for people to leave cars at home

There have been a number of successful examples of using the planning system to change health behaviours. In Warwickshire, a borough council now has a policy to limit the number of hot food takeaways near schools.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association said:

“It is fantastic to see local collaboration and commitment between health and planning officers to ensure that the environments we create provide high quality, healthy environments.

“It is vital that local authorities take every opportunity to improve the environments that we design and plan to help tackle the growing obesity epidemic.”

The series of workshops held across the country in 2015 provided a dedicated forum for planners and public health teams, and local partners to explore the best ways of creating healthier environments through planning policy and new development proposals.   The report has produced a series of recommendations for other authorities to learn from.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England said:

“Obesity is one of the big public health challenges of our time.  Designing better and healthier environments is a core part of the solution. We are delighted to receive this report which showcases the best examples of what bringing together public health and planning expertise can achieve.”

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, LGA Community and Wellbeing spokesperson, said:

"Raising awareness, generating public debate, working with our communities, schools and businesses and using our local government functions can all help to make the local environment a healthier one for our communities.

"One of the important messages from this report is that to create this healthier environment we must work at many levels with many sectors, partners and local residents."

The report follows a series of fourteen workshops where local planning officers worked with public health policy officers to explore the ways that planning policy and new developments can best be used to lead to better environments. It is hoped that the ideas discussed in these workshops will encourage other local authorities to explore the links between planning and health further.

Notes to editors

  1. The project was funded by Public Health England and Local Government Association with contributions from Leeds Beckett University and the councils involved in the workshops.
  2. The full project is available online:
  3. The areas involved in this project were:
  • Wakefield
  • Portsmouth
  • Newcastle
  • Oldham
  • Wokingham
  • Warwickshire
  • Norfolk
  • Hackney
  • Richmond-upon-Thames
  • Northamptonshire
  • North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland and Sunderland
  • Haringey
  • Greenwich