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Children's Health & the Built Environment

children playing outside Healthy community design can benefit children in many important ways. At a time when obesity and diabetes are rising among children, when asthma continues to be highly prevalent, and when conditions such as attention deficit disorder may be on the rise, it is crucial to seek, understand, and implement environmental design solutions that might help with these health challenges.

School siting and design are examples of how the built environment can influence children’s health. When new schools are built a long distance from where families live, then children need to be driven to school, depriving them of an opportunity for physical activity, and contributing to air pollution and risk for automobile crashes. On the other hand, if schools are located within walking or biking distance of where people live, and if safe routes to school are provided, then children can make walking or biking a part of their daily lives, establishing healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

Much is now known about designing and building (or renovating) schools in ways that promote children’s health and school performance. Healthy schools provide plenty of light and fresh air, and use building materials that do not pose hazards to children.

Parks and green spaces are another example of the built environment that contributes to the health of children. Research increasingly suggests that children benefit from the opportunity to play outdoors, where they can explore and enjoy natural environments. Planning parks near residential areas -- and making sure that the parks include attractive landscaping, well-designed amenities such as playgrounds and sports facilities, and safe routes leading to and from them – is an invaluable strategy of community design that is healthy and nurturing for children.

For more information about children’s health and the built environment, refer to the following resources:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity
    Kids Walk to School Program
    The goal of this community-based program is to increase opportunities for daily physical activity by encouraging children to walk to and from school in groups accompanied by adults.

  • Children’s Environmental Health Campaign
    National campaign geared to protect children from exposures to environmental health hazards in schools and other childcare settings. Coordinated by the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (Falls Church, VA).

  • The Children’s Environmental Health Network
    The Children's Environmental Health Network is a national multi-disciplinary organization whose missions are to protect the fetus and the child from environmental health hazards and promote a healthy environment.

  • EPA - Healthy School Environments
    EPA’s Healthy School Environments Web pages are a gateway to online resources to help facility managers, school administrators, architects, design engineers, school nurses, parents, teachers, and staff address environmental health issues in schools.

  • EPA - Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools
    EPA’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools Web site provides specific information on air quality in schools, including tools and techniques for protecting children’s health.

  • EPA - IAQ Design Tools for Schools (DTfS)
    The information available here is presented as a tool to help school districts and facility planners design the next generation of learning environments so that the school facility will help - rather than hinder - schools in achieving their core mission of educating children.

  • EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection
    EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection addresses a variety of children’s health issues, including issues related to healthy community design.

  • Healthy Child Healthy World
    Healthy Child Healthy World is dedicated to protecting the health and well being of children from harmful environmental exposures. Resources include checklists for healthy indoor air quality and articles on home building materials.

  • Healthy Schools Network, Inc.
    Healthy Schools Network, Inc. is a national not-for-profit organization, centered on children's environmental health, and dedicated to assuring every child and school employee an environmentally safe and healthy school through research, information and referral, advocacy, and coalition-building.

  • National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF)
    Professional association focusing on school facilities planning. Web site includes information on healthy school design.

  • National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS)
    In 1995, the University of Northern Iowa established NPPS under a grant from CDC. Through its efforts to help address America's playground safety issues, NPPS hopes to see a decline in the nearly 200,000 annual playground-related injuries suffered by America's youth.

  • U.S. Department of Energy “Energy Smart Schools” Program
    This Web site home to the training modules for the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Energy Smart Schools” Program, which promotes environmentally sound and also healthy school design.

  • National Center for Safe Routes to School
    National Center for Safe Routes to School assists communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bike to school. The Center strives to equip Safe Routes to School programs with the knowledge and technical information to implement safe and successful strategies.

  • Safe Routes to School National Partnership
    The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is a network of more than 500 nonprofit organizations, government agencies, schools, and professionals working together to advance the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) movement in the United States. SRTS can provide a variety of important benefits to children and their communities, including increasing physical activity, reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, and enhancing neighborhood safety.
  • National Governors Association Center for Best Practices

  • Children and Nature
    • Children & Nature Network
      The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working worldwide to reconnect children with nature. C&NN provides access to the latest news and research in the field and a peer-to-peer network of researchers and individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children's health and well-being.

    • Children and Nature Initiative: Prescriptions for Outdoor Activity - National Environmental Education Foundation
      The Initiative addresses two important issues - preventing serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes and reconnecting children to nature.

Additional information on children’s health and the built environment as well as other related topics can be found in the Additional Resources section.

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