Diabetes warning road sign

New research has put forward evidence that changes to the ways in which cities are designed, as well as their transport systems, could significantly reduce the prevalence of lifestyle-related health conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne have reported that increases in global population will lead to higher air pollution rates, car collisions, and reduced physical activity; this would further accelerate the growing rates of chronic disease and injury.

By 2050, the United Nations predicts that the population will rise by two billion, taking the total up to just under 10 billion.

“We concluded that focusing on walking and cycling infrastructure alone is critical but not enough,” said study co-author Professor Billie Giles-Corti.

“To create cities that promote health needs joined-up policies and input across multiple sectors: land use, transport, housing, economic development, urban design, health and community services, and public safety.”

The team proposed a “compact city”, in order to take health development to the next step. They created a model and applied it several cities from around the world, including Melbourne, Copenhagen, London, Delhi, Boston and Sao Paulo.

The model sought ways to increase land-use density and cut the need for public transport by 30 per cent. It also reduced personal vehicle use by ten per cent, and increase the variety of land-use.

The more compact city with a bigger variety of uses for the land meant that people would be more able to walk or cycle to their destination, therefore cutting down on pollution and increasing personal health.

They observed that when the model was applied, both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease saw a reduction in all areas, as well as an increase in physical activity and cleaner air.

It is thought that if these design changes were incorporated, it could reduce type 2 diabetes by 14 per cent in Melbourne.

“These changes also need to be matched by improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to protect cyclists and pedestrians. Our study shows that these changes at city level could lead to real health gains.”

The study was published in The Lancet.