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What councils can do to improve active living and health

14 December 2017
Tamworth acts to address high obesity rate in New England
For the first time Tamworth Regional Council held a workshop this week on how a healthy built environment can positively influence active living.
Walkways and cycle paths promote active living

Walkways and cycle paths promote active living. Photo: Dr Jennifer Kent

It comes at a critical time with the rate of people who are obese in the New England region the third highest in NSW.

The event brought together researchers and thought leaders, including the University’s Dr Jennifer Kent, to discuss how planning for active and healthy communities through local councils can have an impact on residents.

Dr Jennifer Kent, a postdoctoral research fellow from the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning and the keynote speaker at the workshop, said: “Incorporating active living, healthy built environments and healthy eating into town planning, infrastructure and transport can have an extremely positive impact on the health of communities.

“The ability to safely access physical activities, such as cycling, makes it far easier for people to incorporate physical activity into their day by simply changing the way they can get from point A to point B,” said Dr Jennifer Kent.

Penny Milson from the Heart Foundation, who also spoke at the workshop, agreed with Dr Kent. “It’s crucial that we consider the health of residents when planning for our future communities in the New England region.

“Well planned environments where people can walk, cycle or enjoy green spaces will improve health outcomes and decrease rates of chronic diseases for people living in these communities.

“Research shows that people who live within 400 metres of public open space are more likely to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity than those who don’t. So how we plan our communities really makes a difference,” said Ms Milson.

Speaking to The Northern Daily Leader in Tamworth during her visit, Dr Jennifer Kent added: “If the infrastructure isn’t there in the first place, people have no chance.

“Things councils generally do are linked to supporting people’s health. Stuff like providing footpaths, providing bike paths, providing shade, access to healthy food and areas where people can be connected to the community.

Dr Kent added that councils could also play a part in improving mental health in communities with its built environments. “Drawing people out-and-about into their communities is very important and councils are very strong in trying to do that by providing spaces for people to go to,” she also told The Northern Daily Leader.

Tamworth is already making headway in encouraging more physical activity with its Tamworth Bicycle Users Group who are working towards making cycling safer and more accessible for residents.

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