Have you ever thought about how the design of Denver’s neighborhoods affects the health of its residents? Research shows a strong relationship between the built environment and a wide spectrum of health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and other chronic diseases.
To help bridge this gap, Denver's Department of Environmental Health has become one of few governments in the country to create a Built Environment Administrator position to work with city planning and development, transportation, safety and human service agencies to promote an interdisciplinary approach to creating and maintaining healthy communities.
Long time planning and public health practitioner Gretchen Armijo began the new role in June, and has already begun promoting community health, and preventing chronic diseases by including increased opportunities for physical activity. This includes integrating walking and biking, access to transit, and access to healthy food and recreation into community design.
To assist residents and Denver’s City Council in learning more about the health impacts of its land use and transportation planning decisions, health impact assessments (HIA) are now required for all new neighborhood plans. HIAs use data, research and stakeholder input to make recommendations for improved community health. The Globeville and Elyria Swansea neighborhoods in North Denver are the first to participate.
“This new position will help Denver design spaces centered on increasing quality of place, creating environments for residents that foster healthy living, and giving a more holistic picture of neighborhoods focused on health,” said Councilwoman Judy Montero
"We applaud the City of Denver for setting an example to others across the nation in illustrating their commitment to health and equity work though creating this new position," said Dr. Jonathan Heller, Co-Director of Human Impact Partners, a non-profit organization that promotes tools like health impact assessment to improve community well-being.
Initiating these efforts now is important, as childhood obesity rates are a major concern because of the strong linkage between childhood and adult obesity. A recent Denver Public Schools report shows that during the 2012-2013 school year, 31 percent of Denver’s school-aged children were either overweight or obese, consistent with the national average of 33 percent.
Ensuring safe and appealing places for children to play, be active, and walk to school are all environmental factors that can help decrease this alarming trend.
For more information, contact Gretchen Armijo at Gretchen.Armijo@denvergov.org.