An updated policy statement and technical report explore how past decisions on design have led to disparities in health-- and how to move forward
ITASCA, IL -- A community’s design profoundly impacts the health of children and adolescents who live there, from the air they breathe to whether they can walk safely to school or eat nutritious foods. The policies that have driven community design have led to health disparities by limiting access to safe places to live, learn, work and play.
The American Academy of Pediatrics describes the impact of community design on child health, and how pediatricians and policy makers can advocate and partner with communities to improve child health within an updated policy statement, “The Built Environment and Pediatric Health.” The statement and an accompanying technical report, published in the January 2024 Pediatrics (published online Dec. 18) describe the “built environment” as human-made structures such as buildings, parks and roads.
Policy statements created by AAP are written by medical experts, reflect the latest evidence in the field, and go through several rounds of peer review before being approved by the AAP Board of Directors and published in Pediatrics.
“Pediatricians and policymakers can take steps, large and small, toward community design solutions that have great potential to reduce the prevalence of obesity, allergies, asthma and mental health disorders and improve child health equity,” said Michelle J. White, MD, MPH, FAAP, co-author of the policy statement.
“For pediatricians counseling patients, this begins with an understanding of how their recommendations are achievable within the context of the communities where they reside. For instance, a pediatrician counseling a family on providing nutritious meals might share information about a local food pantry or other community resources.”
The AAP Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change and the AAP Section on Minority Health, Equity, and Inclusion wrote both the statement and technical report, which update guidance last provided in 2009.
The AAP offers recommendations for the health care sector and pediatricians, as well as for government and planning organizations. Recommendations include:
“The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the extent to which inequities are related to the built environment, with some communities more harshly impacted by grocery store closures, affordable housing shortages and decreased access to healthcare,” Dr. White said. “Moving forward, it’s important that we support economic investment that offers lasting improvements in the health of our children, our communities and our climate.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.