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Co-benefits of designing communities for active living: an exploration of literature.

  • Author(s): Sallis, James F
  • Spoon, Chad
  • Cavill, Nick
  • Engelberg, Jessa K
  • Gebel, Klaus
  • Parker, Mike
  • Thornton, Christina M
  • Lou, Debbie
  • Wilson, Amanda L
  • Cutter, Carmen L
  • Ding, Ding
  • et al.
Abstract

To reverse the global epidemic of physical inactivity that is responsible for more than 5 million deaths per year, many groups recommend creating "activity-friendly environments." Such environments may have other benefits, beyond facilitating physical activity, but these potential co-benefits have not been well described. The purpose of the present paper is to explore a wide range of literature and conduct an initial summary of evidence on co-benefits of activity-friendly environments. An extensive but non-systematic review of scientific and "gray" literature was conducted. Five physical activity settings were defined: parks/open space/trails, urban design, transportation, schools, and workplaces/buildings. Several evidence-based activity-friendly features were identified for each setting. Six potential outcomes/co-benefits were searched: physical health, mental health, social benefits, safety/injury prevention, environmental sustainability, and economics. A total of 418 higher-quality findings were summarized. The overall summary indicated 22 of 30 setting by outcome combinations showed "strong" evidence of co-benefits. Each setting had strong evidence of at least three co-benefits, with only one occurrence of a net negative effect. All settings showed the potential to contribute to environmental sustainability and economic benefits. Specific environmental features with the strongest evidence of multiple co-benefits were park proximity, mixed land use, trees/greenery, accessibility and street connectivity, building design, and workplace physical activity policies/programs. The exploration revealed substantial evidence that designing community environments that make physical activity attractive and convenient is likely to produce additional important benefits. The extent of the evidence justifies systematic reviews and additional research to fill gaps.

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