■ Mark Green, senior lecturer in health geography, University of Liverpool
HEALTH policy tends to focus on tackling individual behaviour or improving healthcare delivery, such as funding more GPs, developing new treatments, and encouraging healthy lifestyles. But these approaches are costly, difficult to implement, unfeasible and often ineffective.
An increasing body of research suggests that our health is not only shaped by who we are and how we behave but also by the environment we live in. For example:
Air quality has a direct link to respiratory function.
People who live in areas with more green space have improved well-being.
People who live in areas with a greater density of fast food outlets are more likely to be obese.
Our data (derived from retail statistics, NHS, Ordnance Survey and DEFRA) reveals insights about the concentration of certain amenities that may damage or promote health. For example, on average, people in Britain are located as close to a pub or bar as they are to their nearest GP (1.1km) and 42 per cent of people are within a kilometre of a gambling outlet.
We measured how healthy neighbourhoods are across Britain based on the availability of health services (GP surgeries, dentists, pharmacies), retail outlets (fast food outlets, pubs, gambling shops), parks and recreational spaces, and levels of air pollution. Our data revealed:
The five unhealthiest places in Britain
1) Soho, Westminster
The area within the West End of London has very high levels of air pollution, lots of health-damaging retail outlets and a lack of green spaces.
2) North Killingholme, Lincolnshire
The northern part of the village contains poor accessibility to health services. The area has high levels of air pollution, particularly sulphur dioxide. This is partly linked to the heavy industry in the Humber Estuary and being close to Humberside Airport.
3) Shotley Gate, Suffolk
The village south of Ipswich has poor access to health services combined with high levels of air pollution.
4) St. Giles, Camden
This London neighbourhood has a high density of retail outlets and very high levels of air pollution.
5) Bank, City of London
The city centre is business oriented with poor access to GPs. It has a high density of retail outlets and very high levels of air pollution.
And the five healthiest
1) Great Torrington, Devon
The small market town is an ideal place to live with good access to health services, few unhealthy retail outlets, low levels of air pollution and lots of natural vegetation.
2) Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire
The village is located between two large lochs and surrounded by green spaces. It has good access to GPs and pharmacies, few unhealthy retail outlets and low levels of air pollution.
3) Fauldhouse, West Lothian
The village has good access to health services, few unhealthy retail outlets and low levels of air pollution.
4) Foxbar, Renfrewshire
A southern area of Paisley, the area contains many parks and lakes, with few unhealthy retail outlets and low levels of air pollution.
5) Marnoch, North Lanarkshire
A remote village by the River Deveron, it displays good access to health services, few unhealthy retail outlets and low levels of air pollution.
You can use our free online interactive map to see how your neighbourhood compares.
Many of the environmental factors that are damaging to people’s health are concentrated in poorer areas. For example, 62 per cent of people who live in the 10 per cent most deprived areas are within one kilometre of a fast food outlet, compared with 24 per cent in the 10 per cent least deprived areas.
It is easier and more feasible to change neighbourhoods than it is to change individual behaviour. Improving neighbourhoods will reach all people who live or work in an area, but individual-focused approaches will only benefit those who receive the intervention.
The concentration of many of these issues in poorer neighbourhoods means that policies to help these areas will also help to tackle social inequality — a key government priority. Tackling the unhealthy aspects of neighbourhoods will be key for preventing ill health and our new data can help policymakers make the right decisions.