HEALTH – There is growing evidence of the physical and mental health benefits of contact with nature, as outlined earlier in this report. Spending time in nature is free, requires no special equipment, is something that nearly everyone can do and offers not only the opportunity for increased physical activity, but also stress relief and experiential learning. That makes it a perfect fit for initiatives aimed at improving public health. These strategies will advance public health priorities while increasing the amount of time children spend in the natural world:
Strategy #5: Provide model ordinances and technical support for counties and municipalities to encourage Health Impact Assessments of new real estate developments.
The previous strategies are designed to encourage healthy behavior. However, we cannot overlook the need to provide easily accessible, healthy, natural spaces for people and children in our communities. As our world becomes increasingly urban, we need to think harder about how we design our neighborhoods. Health Impact Assessments are tools to evaluate the impact that a development is likely to have on public health. They provide recommendations to increase positive health outcomes by encouraging the inclusion of trails, bicycle lanes, and other design features which promote physical activity. They also address social equity issues and offer suggestions to mitigate adverse health effects. The Centers for Disease Control encourages use of such assessments (CDC Healthy Places Website http://www. cdc. gov/healthyplaces). Legislation has been introduced in three states and in Congress to encourage their use.