The environment can have a profound impact on the health of individuals. Where individuals live, work, learn, and play affects their behavior. The availability of healthy options provides increased possibilities for healthy living.
Environmental change is a physical or material change to the economic, social, or physical environment. For example, a city can promote new trails and paths to encourage pedestrian mobility and use of bicycles and mass transit systems, often referred to as active transportation, or a convenience store near a school can stop advertising tobacco products in its windows.
Communities can produce broad, lasting, improved health outcomes by making healthier choices available to and practical for their residents through environmental change. From making fresh fruits and vegetables accessible and affordable through farmer's markets, to developing safe routes to school and work, the availability of healthier choices can affect the behaviors and practices of many people simultaneously. As a result, positive environmental changes can reduce the burden of chronic diseases and other health problems related to obesity and tobacco use.
Effective environmental change also can help reduce health disparities. Alleviating some of the barriers to healthy choices and behaviors—particularly for those who bear the greatest burden of disease due to a lack of access to healthy options—can help to make healthy living easier, safer, and more affordable.
Environmental Change and Health Equity
As is the case for many other public health challenges, disparities exist for health outcomes related to obesity and tobacco use. There are also inequities in the distribution of resources related to obesity and tobacco use prevention and control in communities–such as safe places for physical activity, the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the existence of tobacco cessation resources. By implementing jurisdiction-wide environmental changes, communities can help to alleviate these health inequities, and provide individuals the opportunity to obtain their full health potential.
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