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Environmental and Policy Approaches to Increase Physical Activity: Street-Scale Urban Design Land Use Policies

Street-scale urban design and land use policies involve the efforts of urban planners, architects, engineers, developers, and public health professionals to change the physical environment of small geographic areas, generally limited to a few blocks, in ways that support physical activity.

  • Policy instruments employed include:
    • Building codes
    • Roadway design standards
    • Environmental changes
  • Design components include:
    • Improved street lighting
    • Infrastructure projects to increase safety of street crossing
    • Use of traffic calming approaches (e.g., speed humps, traffic circles)
    • Enhancing street landscaping

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends urban design and land use policies and practices that support physical activity in small geographic areas (generally a few blocks) based on sufficient evidence of their effectiveness in increasing physical activity.

Results from the Systematic Reviews

Six studies qualified for review and evaluated a variety of effect measures.

  • Reviewed studies assessed the relationship between the perceived environment and physical activity practices, or effectiveness in providing a more inviting and safer outdoor environment for activity.
  • Overall, the median improvement in some aspect of physical activity (e.g., number of walkers or percent of active individuals) was 35%.
  • Additional benefits that may have been brought about by these interventions included:
    • Improvements in green space
    • Increased sense of community and decreased isolation
    • Reductions in crime and stress
  • Increased walking and bicycling on urban streets, although beneficial, also pose the risk of increased injury to pedestrian or cyclist, because of increased exposure to motor vehicles.

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to increasing physical activity.

Support Materials

Publication

Heath GW, Brownson RC, Kruger J, et al. The effectiveness of urban design and land use and transport policies and practices to increase physical activity: a systematic review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health 2006;3(Suppl 1):S55-76.

Read other Community Guide publications about Increasing Physical Activity in our library.




Disclaimer

The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Environmental and policy approaches: street-scale urban design and land use policies www.thecommunityguide.org/pa/environmental-policy/streetscale.html. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: June 2004