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Urban design and its effect on your health

  • Should bars and restaurants be banned if we want to encourage people to eat more healthily? Dr Manuel Franco, from the University of Alcalá, Spain, says that from a public health perspective they should be. He has been investigating the link between urban design and health, and believes that restaurants can become a nexus for unhealthy food. ‘The participant who took this picture said, “This is a delicious dish of chorizo”. But you know that you should not eat that. You have that possibility in a bar. We do
  • Dr Franco has been investigating the food availability in two low-income neighbourhoods in Madrid, Spain, as part of the Heart Healthy Hoods project, funded by the EU’s European Research Council. As part of his work, he ran a photo project, asking residents to take photographs of their neighbourhoods and using them to spark conversations about the types of food that are accessible around them and to reflect on some of the unhealthy options. One participant snapped this shot and said, ‘At the back … rotten f
  • ‘Almost every human relates to one another by eating together. The fact of eating together – and even consuming alcohol together is a cultural phenomenon. It cannot be solely explained individually, it’s also by understanding the culture that we live in,’ according to Dr Franco. He says that the social nature of food also has clear benefits, not only by bringing people closer together over a meal but also creating opportunities to socialise with neighbours and shopkeepers – which is particularly important f
  • The discussions prompted by the pictures revealed that when you have a limited income, food choices often come down to a choice between health and affordability. Dr Franco said that one participant, Zakia El Khamlichi, brought in a picture of a giant plate of pastries. ‘(The woman who took it) is a very well educated person. She knows what cultural diversity and eating healthy means. But she also knows that nowadays you can buy 24 pastries for two euros, so you can feed your own family for two days just on
  • As a result of the 2015 photo project, the participants drew up a list of policy recommendations, including improving local food banks, which they submitted to Madrid’s city council. The participants found that pantries often promote filling food over healthy options. ‘People who are really in need of food, they should not only get food from the food banks because they … mostly contain pasta, rice, some legumes, tomatoes and oil. But we all know we need … vegetables, meat, fish – where is that all coming fr
  • The availability of public transportation is another factor that can affect the health of city dwellers, encouraging them to walk to and from a metro station or tram stop rather than driving door to door in their cars. Public transport, along with bike sharing, gyms, and the availability of tobacco, can create differences between neighbourhoods, according to Dr Franco, who previously conducted this type of research at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland, US. However, he acknowledges that changing urban str