Planning Out Obesity

Custy, Sarah Jeanette (2015) Planning Out Obesity. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The increase in obesity levels is not only an international health crisis but also a social and financial burden. Traditional health promotion approaches to address the problem have received limited success. The collaboration of a number of diverse sectors, for example social, economic, and environmental, has been identified as a fundamental requirement to reverse the situation. The aims of this doctoral research are to provide an understanding of how the built environment impacts on obesity and to investigate how health is integrated into the core functions of town and country planning in the UK.

This research was carried out using a mixed methods approach including stakeholders from multiple disciplines in order to obtain a diversity of voices. This reflects the postmodern perspective underpinning this thesis. Firstly a survey was undertaken to establish the existing use of Health Impact Assessment in the determination of planning proposals. This was followed up with semi-structured telephone interviews and online web-based questionnaires with Healthy City coordinators, planning policy officers and development planners. The empirical data was analysed using thematic coding and SPSS and Excel software packages.

This research has shown that whilst the built environment evidently has the potential to improve health and wellbeing, it can also have a negative impact on health which in turn can lead to sedentary lifestyles and obesity. This study also found that the use of Health Impact Assessments in the determination of development proposals in England is very limited and sporadic. This reflects varying levels of commitment by planners in the use of HIA in the planning process - even though through a web-based questionnaire there was a consensus of opinion that HIA facilitated a focus on health and wellbeing. This research suggests that further interdisciplinary collaboration between the Healthy Cities Project and planning is likely to lead to positive outcomes for the UK planning system particularly through the integration of HIA in the planning process.

Through approaching the obesity crisis from a planning perspective this thesis is a contribution towards the closure of the interdisciplinary gap in the literature and current research.

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