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Liveable urban environments: an opportunity or threat to reducing health inequities?

Creating ‘liveable’ urban environments is seen as an important way of improving the health and wellbeing of the residents in our towns and cities. Yet it is not clear whether the focus amongst planners and other policymakers on fashioning liveability is an opportunity – or threat – to reducing health inequities. On the one hand improving the resources and infrastructure in local communities might benefit everyone but particularly those who are most dependent on what is close by. On the other hand, it is possible that if liveability interventions are poorly or unevenly implemented, or inappropriate to the particular needs of the local population, then health inequities may widen. This issue was the focus of our new research recently published in Social Science & Medicine where we found evidence that some aspects of liveability have reduced inequities, whereas other aspects have not led to a reduction, or in some cases even increased, health inequities.

The notion of liveability has been around for a long while and is underpinned by the United Nation’s New Urban Agenda. The aim is to ensure equitable delivery of sustainable urban development – including local infrastructure and services, and housing amongst many other urban features – and to improve the living social and physical conditions for urban dwellers, including their health. Given these important and laudable goals it is perhaps surprising that so few studies have looked at what effects liveability has on health inequities. Health inequities continue to increase across many countries, including the UK and Australia; identifying what works in the long-term to reduce health inequities remains a policy priority for many national governments and international agencies.

In our new work we examined the international evidence to see when and where urban liveability might pose an opportunity or threat to reducing health inequities. We looked across a series of urban liveability features (education; employment; food, alcohol, and tobacco; green space; housing; transport; and walkability) and asked whether intervening on these aspects of place can serve to widen or narrow inequities.

Our findings show that the urban liveability agenda offers opportunities to help address health inequities but the effects differ from place to place. It was also clear that we need to keep in mind that urban liveability is just one part of a much broader urban system; whilst improving aspects of urban liveability can improve the health for some populations in a local area, it may not be the case for others. In some cases, the health benefits of urban liveability are restricted to specific (and sometimes more prosperous) communities. In fact, in more extreme cases urban liveability interventions can result in local people being pushed out of their community (e.g. through associated hikes in rental prices), with negative implications for their health and wellbeing.

We believe that the findings from this research include some important messages for policymakers and urban planners tasked with identifying ways to improve people’s health and reduce health inequities. Designing our neighbourhoods to become more liveable offers some significant opportunities to enhance health. However, it is also apparent liveability interventions need to be implemented in ways that meet the needs of all population groups living in the area, including the most vulnerable. As researchers, it is important that we continue to monitor the impact of liveability interventions on inequities and seek a better understanding of how these issue relate to the wider urban and social systems affecting our health.

Hannah Badland & Jamie Pearce

CRESH seminar – Bombarded by Booze

Title: Bombarded by Booze: Children’s real-time exposure to alcohol marketing using wearable cameras and GPS devices

Presenter: Professor Louise Signal, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand

Description: This presentation highlights innovative New Zealand research with children using wearable cameras and GPS devices to capture the extent and nature of their exposure to alcohol marketing.

When: Thursday 31st January, 11-12

Where: Lister Learning and Teaching Centre – 2.14 – Teaching Studio, 5 Roxburgh Pl, Edinburgh EH8 9SU

GIS job – come and work with us

We have a great job going. It’s at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow. Your role will be within the Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme . Your job will be to support the Programme Leader in developing research furthering our understanding of how social and physical environment might improve public health and reduce health inequalities. We’re looking for someone who can use GIS and write code. Specifically, you will be obtaining and preparing large spatial datasets, manipulating them in GIS, writing project specific code in a general purpose programming language, preferably Python or R, and carrying out research examining relationships between environment and population health. This job requires the ability to create and code innovative solutions to data handling and data analysis problems. Plenty of chances to contribute to publications and grant applications too. No need to have a PhD – we’re more interested in your skills…. 

More details, including how to apply, how much you could get paid etc here.

The closing date for applications is 22nd October.

Rich Mitchell would be delighted to discuss the post with you.

 

 Main Duties and Responsibilities

Perform the following activities in conjunction with and under the guidance of the Principal Investigator (PI):

1. Plan and conduct assigned research into environment and health, individually or jointly in accordance with the programme’s development strategy.

2. Contribute to the development and implementation of new methods and approaches to understanding how neighbourhood environments do, and might, affect health.

3. Develop, test and implement custom scripts/code to enable the handling and analysis of large spatial datasets.

4. Document research output including analysis and interpretation of all data, maintaining records and managing databases, drafting technical/progress reports and papers as appropriate.

5. Contribute to the organisation, supervision, mentoring and training of undergraduate and/or postgraduate students and less experienced members of staff of the project team to ensure their effective development.

6. Develop and enhance your research profile and reputation and that of The University of Glasgow, SPHSU and Neighbourhoods and Communities Programme, including contributing to publications of international quality in high profile/quality refereed journals, enhancing the research impact in terms of economic/societal benefit, and gathering indicators of esteem.

7. Contribute to the presentation of work at international and national conferences, at internal and external seminars, colloquia and workshops to develop and enhance our research profile.

8. Contribute to the identification of potential funding sources and assist in the development of proposals to secure funding from internal and external bodies to support future research.

9. Collaborate with colleagues and participate in team/group meetings/seminars/workshops across SPHSU/Institute of Health and Wellbeing/ University and wider community (e.g academic partners).

10. Perform administrative tasks related to the activities of the research group including budgets/expenditure.

11. Contribute to outreach activities of the University of Glasgow.

12. Carry out modest teaching activities (e.g demonstrating etc) and associated administration as assigned by the Directors of cognate Research Institutes and in consultation with Principal Investigators.

13. Keep up to date with current knowledge and recent advances in the field/discipline.

14. Engage in personal, professional and career development to enhance both specialist and transferable skills in accordance with desired career trajectory.

15. Undertake any other duties of equivalent standing as assigned by Directors of cognate Research Institutes and/or PIs.15. Contribute to the enhancement of the University’s International profile in line with the Strategic Plan, Glasgow 2020 – A Global Vision.

Salary Range£28,098 – £31,604 per annum

Why Places Matter for our Wellbeing

The following post is an interview with Professor Jamie Pearce and Professor Sarah Curtis about how our surroundings affect our health. It was originally posted in April 2017 in the build up to the Edinburgh Science Festival.

What might the audience expert to learn from this event?

While there are many things we can do as individuals to improve our health and wellbeing, action to create a healthier environment also requires community, societal and political responses. We will report on research that explores how and why the places where we live, work and play affect our mental health, and, with the help of the audience, identify some likely ways to make our environment healthier.

green_space_image

People might expect that being in pleasant surroundings can lift our moods, but please can you briefly outline how your research goes beyond this?

We know from lots of research over many years that the places in which we live, work and play can be both beneficial and detrimental to our health and mental wellbeing. Our research has shown that ‘therapeutic’ properties of places include high levels of community cohesion, availability and accessibility of high quality green spaces, and investment in infrastructure to support physical activity, such as cycle paths.

On the other hand, places can be damaging to our mental health if, for example, they are characterised by high levels of crime, pollution, poor physical conditions and a lack of secure and rewarding employment opportunities. Our research also explores how different groups vary in their response to their environment. For instance, the mental health benefits of living in a greener environment are greater for those who are relatively poor, as compared with for wealthier groups. This finding is important, since the Scottish Government and other policymakers need to know what works in terms of environmental planning to reduce health inequalities.

Why is now a good time to highlight the findings of your work?

Like many other countries, mental health in Scotland is a major public health challenge. We know that many mental health outcomes are significantly poorer in Scotland than they are in England. It is estimated that around one in three people are affected by mental illness in any one year. People in the most socially disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected. For example, our work has shown that adults living in the most deprived parts of Scotland are almost three times as likely to have common mental health problems as those in the least deprived areas.

It is no wonder that improving mental health is a priority for the Scottish Government and is one of 55 national indicators chosen to chart the country’s progress towards the achievement of our National Outcomes – wellbeing targets set by the Scottish Government.

Can you give one or two examples of how people might make simple changes to their surroundings to improve their wellbeing?

Our research has shown very clearly that so much to do with our health is outside of our personal control. To make substantial improvements to our health – including mental wellbeing – requires us to think and act collectively. As individuals, we can get involved in helping to make the places we live more supportive for mental health and wellbeing through getting involved in community initiatives, making therapeutic spaces more accessible, and ensuring our workplaces are supportive.

Can you highlight one or two outcomes from your research that have surprised you?

One of the most fascinating findings from our recent research is that the circumstances early in our lives can have lasting lifelong implications. For example, we have found that characteristics of the places we live during our childhood years can affect mental health and cognitive ageing much later in life. These findings change the way in which we think about the relationships between places and health; to date we have probably not appreciated quite how important places are for our health over our whole lives. It also means that changes we make to our environment now to make places better for mental health are likely to benefit the next generation as well as ourselves.

What is your motivation for bringing your research to the Science Festival?

We think that improving mental health is a major challenge for Scotland and other countries in the UK. To make substantial and sustained progress will require some joined-up thinking, which recognises that mental health is influenced by a range of social, political and environmental factors in our communities. Having conversations about these issues, and identifying possible solutions to such important challenges, is an important way of helping to make sure that important research findings are acted on.

Call for papers – Health & place across the life course – AAG, Boston, April 2017

We’re organising a session entitled Health and Place Across the Life Course at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Boston, MA, April 5-9 2016. If you’re interested in contributing a paper then please get in touch. Further details here:

Session title: Health and place across the life course
Session organisers: Niamh K Shortt and Jamie Pearce, Centre for Research on Environment, Society & Health, University of Edinburgh.

Life course research has been instrumental in establishing that social, economic and cultural factors can influence health in later life either through, for example, an accumulation of effects or through critical periods.  There has however been little work by health geographers that has considered how factors that are rooted in place accumulate to influence health and wellbeing through the life course. Reasons for this may include the lack of readily available historical environmental data and the challenges that their collection pose. The absence of such research is problematic because it is likely to restrict our understanding of the ways in which places matter for health, including: the accumulative effects of place over the life course; the critical periods in people?s lives when places are particularly pertinent for health and wellbeing; and, for quantitative work, identifying causal relationships.

This session calls for research papers that incorporate environmental and/or social life course perspectives in order to answer these critical questions.  We welcome both empirical (quantitative or qualitative) and theoretical papers. We particularly welcome papers that consider the challenges of merging historical and contemporary data in health and place research.  Abstracts (maximum of 250 words) should be submitted to Niamh Shortt niamh.shortt@ed.ac.uk  by September 30th 2016.

All accepted participants will be required to register and submit your abstract to the AAG following the AAG guidelines http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/register and to send your PIN number to niamh.shortt@ed.ac.uk  by October 27, 2016.