Built Environments And Child Health in WalEs and AuStralia (BEACHES)

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Engineering

Abstract

A better understanding of how the built environment drives obesity in children will inform evidence-based planning policy and practice strategies to prevent the rise in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in future generations. We will bring together five large UK and Australian cohort studies to understand how complex and interacting built environment factors influence modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, sedentary time, unhealthy diet) for NCD's across childhood.

Technical Summary

We will identify and understand how complex and interacting factors in the built environment (BE) influence modifiable risk factors (physical inactivity, sedentary time, unhealthy diet, overweight/obesity) for non-communicable dieases (NCD) across childhood. A better understanding of how the BE drives overweight/obesity by either promoting or inhibiting modifiable risk factors will inform evidence-based planning policy and practice strategies to prevent the rise in NCD's in future generations. Building on previous collaborative research between University of Western Australia, Queensland University of Technology, Monash and Swansea University, our programme of work will bring together five large cohort studies that have detailed anthropometric, physical activity, and contextual data on more than 1 million UK and Australian children. We will use highly resolved spatial data and cutting edge geospatial techniques to construct a harmonized set of metrics that characterise the BEs each child inhabits across their life course. Finally, we will use these components in a multi-level modelling framework to quantify the influence that different BE characteristics have had on the weight status of these children, and the respective roles of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and diet in this relationship. Harmonizing both child and BE indicators across five large-scale studies will enable us to conduct analyses across a broader set of age-ranges and leverage greater heterogeneity in BEs. This will provide a unique opportunity to identify impacts of the BE that are common across settings, but also explore how the contrasting physical, cultural and policy environments may act to mediate those effects.

This research will inform evidence-based planning policy and practice strategies to prevent the rise in NCD's in future generations. We will develop a set of guidelines focused on principles of best practice for liveable, family-friendly BEs that promote healthy beginnings

Planned Impact

The main beneficiaries of this research are:

1. Children

Childhood obesity and physical inactivity are two of the most significant modifiable risk factors for the prevention of non-communicable diseases, yet a third are children in Wales and Australia are overweight or obese, and only 20% of UK and Australian children are sufficiently active. The overarching impact of this research project is to improve health and life-course outcomes for the current and future generations of children. They should benefit from, and be recipients of, improved / tailored planning policies and interventions - informed by our findings. Secondly, by engaging directly with children, their families and schools, we will help them to understand that where they live has an impact on their health and how they can live a healthy life.


2. National Policy Makers

Communicating our research results clearly to national policy makers from the Welsh and Australian state and federal Governments will be crucial in order to get evidence translated into policy and practice and achieve real impact. We will provide international, national, regional and local findings so that policy makers can understand how complex and interacting factors in the BE impacts on modifiable risk factors for non-communicable diseases across childhood, and the implications of this for planning policy and practice strategies.

3. Local Government Planners

Working with urban planners from across Wales and Australia, will provide insight to which aspects of the BE support health and well-being and which aspects of the BE to prioritise for children living in new and existing neighbourhood developments. Aggregated maps will be used to communicate with local government and planners about key areas for priority and intervention. By adopting our results, urban planners will be able to implement changes that have the opportunity to bring about large-scale health benefits and reduce health inequalities.

4. The NHS and Australian Health Services

Reducing the impact of obesity and NCD on current and future generations will result in improved sustainability and productivity of the NHS and Australian Health Services through reduced demand, freeing resources to be used for
anticipatory and elective care and the ability to cope better with surges in demand (e.g. influenza).

Publications

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