Hong Kong Government urban planners have sought the expertise of Professor Ester Cerin at Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Health and Ageing following publication in the Lancet of a ground-breaking international study that found a neighbourhood's design plays a critical role in shaping residents’ physical activity and could help reduce obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The study - Physical activity in relation to urban environments in 14 cities worldwide: a cross-sectional study – has generated global media attention with its findings on how much physical activity people did in urban environments in 14 cities around the world. The cities included were Ghent (Belgium), Curitiba (Brazil), Bogota (Colombia), Olomouc (Czech Republic), Aarhus (Denmark), Hong Kong (China), North Shore, Waitakere, Wellington and Christchurch (New Zealand), Stoke-on-Trent (UK), Seattle and Baltimore (US).
Professor Cerin said while the impact of neighbourhood design on health has been studied for years, her team are the first to objectively investigate the connection worldwide. They found people living in densely populated and walkable neighbourhoods with interconnected streets to shops, public transport and parks got up to 90 minutes more moderate to vigorous physical activity a week than people living in low-density, destination-poor suburbs. This 90-minute difference corresponds to about 60% of the 150 minutes recommended by the WHO to reduce non-communicable disease, a global pandemic killing five million people a year.
The study found, on average, participants across all 14 cities did 37 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity - the equivalent of brisk walking. Baltimore had the lowest average rate of activity (29.2 min per day) and Wellington the highest (50.1 min per day). The difference in physical activity between participants living in the most and least activity-friendly neighbourhoods ranged from 68-89 minutes per week, representing 45-59% of the WHO recommended 150 minutes per week.
However, it was the finding for Hong Kong - 44.9 minutes per day - that has attracted interest from urban planners in that city. Keen to make its citizens healthier and reduce non-communicable disease, HK Govt officials will meet with Professor Cerin next week to talk about ways to make new development areas more walkable and activity friendly.
Professor Cerin applauded the proactive approach HK city planners were taking towards making the city a healthier place to live – and this despite already ranking highly in the study for minutes per day walked. “Hong Kong has very high residential density and good transport access. This means that people are more likely to walk to local services, or to catch a metro, bus or boat on a daily basis. When done regularly, this kind of incidental physical activity accumulates and is an important contribution to overall levels of physical activity. It’s great that officials want to do even more to make the city more walkable and activity-friendly for people of all age groups,” she said.