Health & the Built environment

selected abstracts

Jill L Grant and Patricia M Manuel. 2011. Policy-maker perspectives on youth health and the built environment: focus groups with Atlantic Canada planners. Planning Practice and Research 26(1): 43-57

As obesity rates have climbed the planning literature has identified possible connections between health and the built environment. The paper reports on the results of focus group discussions with planners and policy-makers in Atlantic Canada, a region with high youth obesity rates. Planner participants showed limited knowledge of the way that planning and zoning policies could affect healthy eating options for youth. They believed that the built environment affected mobility outcomes but commonly attributed obesity to lifestyle choices. The research identifies the need for greater communication and collaboration amongst different government departments and levels to increase understanding of potential links between the built environment and health outcomes for youth.


Jill L Grant, Patricia M Manuel, Kathryn MacKay, and Tara-Leigh McHugh. 2010. Barriers to optimizing investments in the built environment to reduce youth obesity: policy maker perspectives. Canadian Journal of Public Health 101(3): 237-240.

Objective: To identify factors which limit the ability of local governments to make appropriate investments in the built environment to promote youth health and reduce obesity outcomes in Atlantic Canada.

Method: Policy makers participated in focus groups to discuss the receptiveness of local governments to introducing health considerations into decision-making. Seven facilitated focus groups involved 44 participants from local and provincial governments in Atlantic Canada. Thematic discourse analysis of the meeting transcripts identified systemic barriers to creating a built environment that fosters health for youth aged 12-15 years.

Results: Participants consistently identified four categories of barriers. Financial barriers limit the capacities of local government to build, maintain, and operate appropriate facilities. Legacy issues mean that communities inherit a built environment designed to facilitate car use, with inadequate zoning authority to control fast food outlets, and without the means to determine where schools are built or how they are used. Governance barriers derive from government departments with distinct and competing mandates, with a professional structure that privileges engineering, and with funding programs that encourage competition between municipalities. Cultural factors and values affect outcomes: people have adapted to car-oriented living; poverty reduces options for many families; parental fears limit children’s mobility; youth receive limited priority in built environment investments.

Conclusion: Participants indicated that health issues have increasing profile within local government making this an opportune time to discuss strategies for optimizing investments in the built environment. The focus group method can foster mutual learning amongst professionals within government in ways that could advance health promotion.