Healthy communities

How do living environments and communities affect health inequalities?

Where people live affects their health. There are a number of elements of the living environment that influence health including the built environment, travel choices and the communities in which people live. The design, maintenance and location of buildings influence health. Similarly, public spaces and transport networks can facilitate health by providing opportunities for physical activity, social interaction and access to social goods.

Disadvantaged people are more likely to live in poor quality built environments and have limited access to transport and local amenities supporting healthy choices.

play park in community

"Communities and neighbourhoods that ensure access to basic goods, that are socially cohesive, that are designed to promote good physical and psychological well-being and that are protective of the natural environment are essential for health equity."
Sir Michael Marmot, 2010

built environment diagram

IPH work on healthy communities

The creation of healthy sustainable places and communities should go hand in hand with sustainable development and the mitigation of climate change. IPH is concerned with the health impacts of the built environment, climate change, active transport and health inequalities relating to these issues.  IPH also uses health impact assessment (HIA) which considers the health impacts of an identified proposal and puts in place recommendations for enhanced health.  Examples of HIAs undertaken on proposals which influence healthy communities include:

  • North-West border area - Community Allotment/Garden proposal
  • Galway Traveller Movement - Travellers’ Health Matters
  • Department of the Environment - West Tyrone Area Plan
  • Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government - National Homeless Strategy
  • Department for Social Development - Draft Regeneration Framework for the North West quarter Part 2 area of Belfast City Centre

HIAs undertaken across the island of Ireland available at

Key facts:

  • Children from deprived households in Northern Ireland are five times more likely to be involved in traffic collisions (DoE, 2010)
  • Transport and health are closely linked.  How we move about our environment impacts on levels of physical activity. Walking, cycling and using public transport (walking/cycling to the halt) contributes to the recommended 30mins of physical activity on a daily basis.
  • In Northern Ireland, over half of all women and two-thirds of men are either overweight or obese.   In the Republic of Ireland, over 62% of the population are already overweight or obese.  A modal shift to active travel would have associated health benefits.
  • Designated ‘Smarter Travel’ areas in the Republic of Ireland support people to leave their cars at home when they can opt instead to walk, cycle or use other more sustainable forms of transport, particularly for short journeys.
  • Older people, young children and people who live in areas susceptible to flooding will be more vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change.

IPH partners on healthy communities

IPH is currently working with