Thursday, June 18, 2009

Do You Live in a Healthy Neighborhood?

I was recently asked to propose a short list of indicators of a “healthy neighborhood.” The list was to be considered by the San Diego Childhood Obesity Initiative, which is a wonderful coalition working hard to improve environments and policies to support children’s health. I thought others might be interested in the list, so I am sharing it here.

The items represent my understanding of likely physical or built environmental influences on diet, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors. Many of the items are consistent with evidence. I believe the general concepts are sound, but the specific numbers and distances are best guesses. For present purposes I added a few priority indicators for healthy schools and homes.

Healthy food access

  • Supermarket or other source of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables within ½ mile of homes
  • No more than 2 convenience or liquor stores within ½ mile of homes
  • No more fast food than sit-down restaurants within ½ mile of homes
  • Community garden within 1 mile of homes
  • Weekly farmer’s market within 1 mile of homes

Facilities for active recreation

  • Park with play equipment in good working order within ½ mile of homes
  • Parks have walking paths
  • Daily youth activity programs for free or sliding scale fees in all parks
  • Private recreation facility with sliding scale fees within ½ mile of homes
  • Nearest school activity facilities is open for public use

Designing for active transport

  • Sidewalks on every street in neighborhood
  • Pedestrian aids (crosswalks, signal) at intersection with nearest busy street
  • Street pattern creates direct routes from homes to nearby destinations
  • Nearest shopping area has sidewalks and safe pedestrian crossings
  • Public transit stop within ½ mile of homes

Healthy school environments

  • Evidence-based physical education offered daily
  • Markings on preschool and elementary playgrounds to stimulate active play
  • Sidewalks, marked crosswalks, and traffic calming within ¼ mile of each school to facilitate safe walking and biking
  • Salad bars with multiple raw food choices daily in every cafeteria
  • Only healthy foods provided at school
  • Convenience stores and fast food restaurants are not within ¼ mile of schools
  • No food advertising in schools

Healthy home environments

  • No televisions in children’s bedrooms
  • Only healthy foods out on the counter for snacking
  • Sports and activity supplies available for both indoor and outdoor play
  • A bicycle or skateboard for every child

James Sallis


Anonymous said...

I think neighborhoods with bike lanes help create an active environment for all- bikers can ride safely, and everyone is reminded about living a more active lifestyle when they see the bike lanes everyday.

Anonymous said...

Oracle says...i feel that sidewalks, and limited/no fast food resturants are keys to healthy neighborhoods. If people are forced to drive a distance for a un-convenient fast food meal they will likely eat at home or at a healthier food option. Stores like Trader Joes need to keep growing as i feel they are healthier options and believe it or not much more afordable.

Anonymous said...

I agree that neighborhoods with direct routes to destinations are important, because people are disinclined to walk if they have to take a roundabout route. I would like to see more city planners move away from the winding, complicated suburbs and go back to the grid pattern. is a great website for measuring a neighborhood's walkability.

Anonymous said...

Fast food places will remain constant in cities all over the globe! If there were more or equal amount of grocery stores to fast food places, I feel the this would contribute a great deal to healthy neighborhoods! I feel that if cities all around the world would make physical activity more readily available, this would help fight against obesity! Add the biking lanes, build more parks, lower the costs to rec centers and neighborhood sports and see a positive and healthy result! I feel all cities, towns, etc need to make these activities more available and results will be seen!