Working Paper

Built Environments and Child Health: A Policy Review

Published: 2021

Non-technical Summary:

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century and is affected not only by individual choice but also by societal and environmental influences. Childhood obesity is higher in children living in regional and remote compared with major cities, in one-parent families and for those with a disability. The main modifiable risk factors for childhood obesity are unhealthy eating and low levels of physical activity. The built environment is also a modifiable risk factor for childhood obesity and varies based on individual and neighbourhood disadvantage. The built environment can impact on long-term, positive solutions to childhood obesity through supporting (or hindering) physical activity and healthy eating in children. Coordinated policy across multiple sectors and levels of government, developed using a strong research evidence base, can drive the built environment to better support more active lifestyles, healthy eating, prevent childhood obesity and alleviate persistent disadvantage in one of our most vulnerable populations and the communities in which they live.

A policy analysis was conducted to investigate how Western Australian and national policies address the health of children through the built environment’s influence on obesity and the modifiable risk factors for obesity, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and diet. A total of 31 Western Australian and ten national built environment-related policy documents (defined as policies, strategic plans, frameworks, and guidelines) were reviewed. The policy documents reviewed mostly referred to the role of the built environment in supporting physical activity. The most referred to built environment factors that may impact childhood obesity were street connectivity, parks, open spaces and recreation facilities, and safety. Seven policy documents included specific targets related to built environment features, most of which were related to active transport, and only five included an implementation or evaluation plan. Only five policy documents recognised the specific needs of children through the built environment.

Recommendations for future policy development and review include the need for the voices of children and families to be incorporated and the inclusion of child-specific built environment features such as walkability, park access and quality, and home yard size and attributes. Consideration of the way different sub-groups of children interact with the built environment and the development of multi-departmental policies with transparent implementation and evaluation plans are also needed to impact the modifiable risk factors for obesity across childhood.


Centre Member

Andrea Nathan
Ben Beck

Centre Member

Bryan Boruff

Centre Member

Donna Cross
Gursimran Dhamrait

Centre Member

Hayley E Christian

Centre Member

Jasper Schipperijn

Centre Friend

Karen Villanueva
Leanne FriedPeter GethingStewart Trost


Christian, H., Fried, L., Dhamrait, G., Nathan, A., Beck, B., Boruff, B., Cross, D., Gething, P., Schipperijn, J., Trost, S., & Villanueva, K. (2021). ‘Built Environments and Child Health: A Policy Review’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2021-22. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland.