How to include physical activity related health benefits in the economics of urban planning

Belen Zapata-Diomedi, Lennert Veerman.

Attributes of the built environment, such as street connectivity, diversity of land uses and transportation infrastructure can positively influence physical activity of urban populations, which results in health and economic benefits. However, decisions within the built environment are usually made without a full consideration of health outcomes. While health effects related to road trauma and exposure to poor air quality are included in the appraisal process in the transport sector, physical activity is not assessed on a routine basis. This incomplete picture may result in a bias towards built environments that are not supportive of physical activity.

In Australia, the population is estimated to further concentrate in capital cities, increasing from 16 million in 2017 to 27 million in 2053 [1]. This presents infrastructure and housing challenges, but also opportunities to create liveable places where people can be active and healthy. The research community can greatly contribute to a healthy expansion of Australian cities by providing evidence of the likely health benefits of built environments that facilitate physical activity. Hence, based on recent Australian literature, we estimated the impact on walking and cycling of changes in features of the built environment: density, diversity of land use, availability of destinations, distance to transit, design, and neighbourhood walkability.

Economic values were found to be greatest for increasing availability of destinations within the neighbourhood, which are associated with health-related benefits worth an average $14.65 per adult annually (range $0.41 to $42.51), depending on the type of destination. The economic value of increasing neighbourhood walkability was found to be worth an average $1.62 per adult annually (range $0.11 to $15.73). Most of the value was derived from gains in quality and duration of life. These results are based on study a study commissioned by the Centre of Population Health of the New South Wales Ministry of health ( They are expressed on a per person basis and in dollar values, and could serve as reference values in cost benefit analysis of built environment interventions.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Capital cities: past, present and future. 2014 [cited 2017 28 February]; Available from:[email protected]/featurearticlesbyCatalogue/AC53A071B4B231A6CA257CAE000ECCE5?OpenDocument#PARALINK3.


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