Building healthier lifestyles into everyday living
Where people live has a huge impact on their physical and mental health. Safe cycling and walking routes, for example, encourage more active lifestyles. Similarly, good community spaces and services reduce social isolation. This is why the National Health Service (NHS) in England wants to encourage housebuilders, policy makers and health authorities to build places that give people a chance to live healthier lives. We helped NHS England analyse a range of initiatives to understand the impact each could have on health and economic returns to inform the launch of its Healthy New Towns (HNT) programme.
- identified and evaluated health and economic outcomes relating to healthy new towns initiatives
- provided evidence to support the development of Putting Health into Place, which provide guidance to the stakeholders involved in developing new communities
- supported NHS England to progress a priority action from the Five Year Forward View.
Putting public health first
The Healthy New Towns (HNT) programme is about understanding and promoting the best way to build healthier lives for people across the UK. Public health is imperative to building a positive human future.
“Given only about 20 per cent of our health outcomes are determined by clinical care, it’s really important that we start to look at other factors influencing our health and well-being”, says Emily Hough, Strategy Director for the National Health Service (NHS) England and NHS Improvement.
“Back when we published the Five Year Forward View in 2014, NHS England kicked off the Healthy New Towns Programme to work with a number of local sites to think about what works in incorporating a focus on prevention, well-being and active communities in new and existing housing developments”.
To launch the programme, NHS England trialled a range of initiatives at ten major new housing sites around the country. These included testing innovative care models, making changes to the built environment and developing spaces that encourage physical activity and social connection.
Bicester, one of the ten demonstrator sites, is a great example. Blue lines have been painted around the town to try to incentivise people towards jogging or walking. In one of those blue lines, they have seen a 27 per cent increase in the amount of activity taking place. The positive benefit of this is it can help to reduce things such as obesity or diabetes over time, which then has benefits both in terms of reducing the burden on the NHS as well as helping to get people back to work.
Evaluating health and economic benefits
We brought together a diverse team of economists, statisticians and health specialists to carry out an in-depth analysis of ten of the most promising initiatives across the demonstrator sites.
We found that even small changes can have a big impact on the health of communities, like a reduction in A&E visits and less reliance on social care. In fact, every £1 invested returned a saving of up to £2.50 in health-related expenses.
“One of the surprising outcomes was that you don’t have to wait for many of the benefits to be realised. Particularly when we think about mental health, by getting people more engaged in the community and providing those connections, we see quite quick benefits for people with mental health needs”, says Christian Norris, PA economics expert.
As well as evaluating the impact on health outcomes, we looked at economic returns. We developed an advanced statistical model of the UK housing market to find out how HNT initiatives affect the housing market.
We found that there was a significant increase in housing demand in these areas, providing a strong incentive for house-builders to incorporate HNT principles into their developments.
“PA was a core partner in the HNT programme. Their evaluation was a key contribution to the findings set out in Putting Health into Place, a report which provides ten principles to guide the different stakeholders involved in developing new communities. These principles will help build stronger communities prevent ill health and make the most of stretched budgets. They will also get partners working together to build places where everyone can enjoy healthier, happier lives”, says Emily Hough.