Category Archives: Physical Environment

Does deindustrialisation explain low levels of physical activity in the UK?

by Esther Rind

In the UK, as in many other affluent countries, levels of physical activity have been declining in recent decades. In many areas with a history of heavy manual employment levels of physical activity are particularly low. This has been linked to a considerable reduction in work-related activities, coupled with a generally more sedentary life-style and the development of  broader environmental factors unconducive to physical activity (e.g. increased traffic makes walking and cycling less safe and attractive). Furthermore, previous research has highlighted that participation in leisure-time physical activity is relatively low across those employed in physically demanding industries. Low levels of recreational physical activity in combination with a considerable loss of work activity would therefore result in particularly low activity levels in the former manual workforce. Continue reading Does deindustrialisation explain low levels of physical activity in the UK?

Social differences in pollution across the EU may help to explain health inequalities

As a European Commission report and an important academic paper have recently reminded us, air pollution remains a persistent threat to population health across Europe. Pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone are among the leading causes of premature mortality and respiratory-related health outcomes. Globally, exposure to air pollution ranks as one of the top ten risk factors for health. Continue reading Social differences in pollution across the EU may help to explain health inequalities

CRESH research on children and the outdoors mentioned in House of Lords debate

Research by Rich Mitchell was mentioned in a House of Lords debate on 16 May. The debate centred on the contribution of outdoor activities to the United Kingdom economy and to the health and well-being of the population. The research cited was completed  in 2009. Rich Mitchell and Rebecca Shaw followed a group of children (average age 13) undertaking an outdoor education scheme; the John Muir Award. The children completed questionnaires before, during and then 18 months after, their Award experience. The study showed massive inequalities in experience of outdoor environments. Children living in the poorest circumstances were over 6 times more likely to have had no prior experience of wild places than their more affluent peers. The study showed that participation in the Award increased aspirations for visiting the outdoors, particularly among the most deprived children, but it did not affect actual visiting behaviour.
You can find out more about the John Muir Award here
There is a summary of the research here
The full report is here

Green space, physical activity and health in New Zealand

A new piece of CRESH research has been published online in the journal Public Health this week.  The paper “The role of physical activity in the relationship between urban green space and health” can be downloaded here.  We looked at the health of over 8000 individuals who were interviewed for the New Zealand Health Survey in 2006 and 2007 and asked whether they were likely to be healthier if they lived in greener neighbourhoods.  We found that residents of greener neighbourhoods did indeed have better cardiovascular and mental health, independently of their individual risk factors (e.g., sex, age, socioeconomic status).  Green space might benefit health because it provides greater opportunities for physical activity, and we were able to test this hypothesis because the New Zealand Health Survey included information about how physically active each individual respondent typically was.  We found that although physical activity was higher in greener neighbourhoods it did not fully explain the green space and health relationship.  Therefore, other pathways between green space and health (e.g., social contacts, attention restoration) are likely to be equally/more important.

Author: Liz Richardson

CRESH Seminar 6th Nov: Air Pollution Kills! So What? Air Quality Engineering to Improve Public Health

CRESH Seminar Announcement

Air Pollution Kills! So What? Air Quality Engineering to Improve Public Health

Julian Marshall

Department of Civil Engineering

University of Minnesota

When? 11-12pm Tues 6th November

Where? Hutton Room (3.18), Institute of Geography, Drummond St, Edinburgh

The World Health Organization estimates that urban air pollution is one of the top 15 causes of death globally (one of the top 10 causes in high-income countries), responsible for ~ 1.7% of deaths annual (high-income countries, 2.1%). How can we reduce those health effects? This presentation will discuss three investigations into that question. (1) Urban form describes the physical layout of an urban area – for example, city shape, population density, and “patchiness” of urban growth. We have found that air pollution is related to urban form, for cities in the US and internationally, raising the question of whether urban planning can help cities meet air quality goals. (2) In low-income countries, indoor air can be especially polluted, owing to combustion of solid fuels for heating and cooking. In a rural village in Karnataka, India, we conducted a randomized control trial of a higher-efficiency stove, to test whether the stove improves indoor air pollution, health effects, and climate-relevant emissions. (3) Prior research emphasizes the health benefits of active travel (walking, biking). Can urban planning increase active travel without worsening exposure to air pollution? We explore spatial patterns in risks from those two factors (physical inactivity; and exposure to air pollution). A constant theme through these topics is environmental justice: which groups have higher exposures to air pollution, and how exposure correlates with demographic attributes such as race and income.



CRESH Symposium on Physical Activity and the Environment. November 19th

One day symposium – Physical Activity and the Environment

School of Geosciences, Drummond Street, University of Edinburgh

19th November 10.00 – 16.30

Evidence exists to suggest that physical activity is important for health and that low levels of physical activity are of increasing concern. The global importance of this was highlighted in a recent collection of papers in The Lancet quantifying the public health importance of physical activity. The local environment can provide opportunities for promoting or hindering engagement in physical activity and recent research in this field has sought to understand, if and how, features of the local environment shape individual health related behaviours, and in turn, area level health inequalities.

This workshop will bring together academics, public health professionals and policy makers to discuss emerging research and interventions in this area. Speakers from both academia and public policy will present current research and interventions and a group discussion will consider the future for work in this area.

9.30        Coffee and registration

10.00     Welcome

10:15     Prof Nanette Mutrie, Sport, Physical Education & Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh

10.45     Ian Findlay, Chief Officer, Paths for all

11.15     Coffee

11.45     Dr Niamh Shortt, CRESH, University of Edinburgh

12:30     Lunch

13.30     Sharon Allison, Physical Activity and Health Alliance Coordinator, NHS Health Scotland

14.00     Prof Andy Jones, Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of East Anglia

14.30     Coffee

15.00     Where next for research and policy on physical activity and the environment (Group discussion facilitated by Prof Richard Mitchell and Prod Jamie Pearce)

16.30     Wine reception


Places are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis.  Please register your interest by Friday November 2nd by contacting Fiona Hartree on 0131 651 4348 or email

Stigma, environments and health inequalities: why should we be interested?

In recent years there has been a great deal of interest amongst health researchers in the role of social stigma in affecting health. Social stigma can be articulated as a majority view that works to spoil the identity of others on the basis of a discriminating characteristic such as race, gender or class. The social stigma associated with some minority groups has been shown to have health salience in terms of providing an obstacle to gaining access health care, housing provision, welfare, employment and other underlying factors affecting health. Groups that have been the subjects of research include disabled, homeless and itinerant populations and this body of work has revealed the multitude of interpersonal and institutional factors linking discrimination with health. Stigma has also been adopted as a deliberate strategy in health promotion initiatives, most notably in tobacco control with recent work beginning to question whether the denormalisation and stigmatisation of smoking (and the smoker) has reached its limit as a public health goal.

Given the long tradition of work on stigma and health, and the importance of stigma for establishing and perpetuating health inequalities, it is perhaps surprising that few researchers have considered the potential significance of place and the environment in establishing, perpetuating and mediating social stigma. In a recent commentary* on a Japanese paper on place-based discrimination published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, I argue that geographers (and others with interests in place, space and health) could productively consider the role of spatial stigma in affecting the health of local residents. Spatial stigma arises in places with notoriety in the public discourse, and that are constructed as ‘no-go zones’ or ‘sink estates’ that require constant policing.  Neighbourhoods such as Toxteth in Liverpool, South Central in Los Angeles or the French banlieues have for instance been prejudiced by deep-rooted geographical discrimination.  Key to the argument in the commentary is that there are a range of consequences for population health of residing in a highly stigmatised community. Yet very few empirical studies have tested the salience of spatial stigma in affecting population health.

So why should researchers with interests in the environment and spatial inequalities in health be concerned with place-based stigma? In the Social Science and Medicine commentary, I suggest that health might be compromised by spatial stigma through a series of (non-mutually exclusive) individualised and institutional pathways, which in turn can exacerbate geographical inequalities in health. These include:

1. Being ‘looked down on’ because of residing in a stigmatised community can detrimentally affect a number of life chances such as education and training opportunities, employment prospects and the prospects of developing interpersonal relationships. These factors have all been implicated in studies of health.

2. Stigma relating to particular places may act as ‘badge of dishonour’ that results in local residents taking actions such as concealing their address, avoiding receiving visitors or providing excuses to others for where they live. These feelings of shame can work to spoil, manipulate and mediate individual identities and social relations and affect health (e.g. health behaviours or mental health).

3. Place-based stigma affects the levels investment and disinvestment of public and private resources put into the local community. Progressive social policy is undermined by the lack of investment in the local infrastructure, housing and other services that provide the opportunities for healthy living.

4. Social networks, community social bonds and collective efficacy are affected by residents’ withdrawal from the public realm in response to the perceived threats associated with spatial stigma (e.g. crime). The breakdown of these community ties is detrimental to physical and mental health outcomes of local populations.

In short, there is plenty of evidence from the urban sociology and urban geography literature that through a variety of intersecting pathways place-based stigmatisation is harmful to the life chances of local residents. The population health consequences of place-based stigma are however less well established; understanding these pathways is an important challenge for researchers with an interest in the environment and health. This challenge is particularly important during a period of austerity with major reductions in state investment in a range of health related infrastructure. A likely consequence of this retrenchment is the heightened stigmatisation of many socially disadvantaged communities with potentially disastrous implications for public health and health inequalities.

Jamie Pearce, August 2012

 *Library access required; if you are unable to get hold of the paper then I’d be please to email you a copy ( .