Research – premature deaths can be avoided with better urban planning

New research has found that almost 10 per cent of early deaths in adults could be prevented in Bradford each year with better urban and transport planning.

And the recent study published in Environment International led by researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in collaboration with the Born in Bradford (BiB) research team at the Bradford Institute of Health Research (BIHR), based at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, shows people living in poorer neighbourhoods would benefit most from this.

The research estimates that almost 400 adult deaths in Bradford each year are premature and could be preventable if international guidelines for physical activity, air pollution, noise, and access to green space were followed. The highest risk for premature death was among residents of the city’s poorest areas.

The study shows that the biggest number of preventable early deaths was linked to physical activity, followed by exposure to air pollution and traffic noise and access to green spaces.

“Compliance with international guidelines could increase life expectancy by 300 days and result in economic savings of over £50,000 per person,” said Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, coordinator of the study.

According to the researchers, changes to urban and transport planning can reduce the damaging effects of physical inactivity and environmental exposure which can cause early deaths.

Physical activity

Not enough physical activity was closely linked to early deaths in adults living in Bradford, said Doctor Natalie Mueller lead author of the study.

“This highlights the urgency of weaving physical activity into daily life. Cycling, walking and taking public transport to work are things many people can do, as these forms of transport improve health by increasing daily physical activity and can also help to improve air and sound quality and are economically affordable for most people,” she explained.

The researchers also recommend green spaces as an important urban and transport management tool.

“Green spaces can encourage physical activity and vegetation can act as a passive control of air pollution and is a natural noise barrier. Quality green spaces in people’s neighbourhoods can increase the likelihood of them using them, which in itself will provide health benefits”, added Prof Nieuwenhuijsen.

Professor John Wright, Director of the BIHR, said: “Drastic actions are needed to reduce private motorised transport in cities. Cars are a common source of all of these damaging exposures and can lead to high levels of air pollution concentrations, are the major source of noise, contribute to sedentary lifestyles and take up too much space in our cities that could be used for better purposes.

“Unfortunately it is people in the most deprived communities that are most adversely exposed because they cannot afford to live in high quality neighbourhoods, leading to social, environmental and health inequalities.”

The research calls for health promoting interventions to be focused on the most deprived and ethnically-diverse neighbourhoods in Bradford because the largest health gains can be made in these areas.