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Environmental and Policy Approaches to Increase Physical Activity: Community-Scale Urban Design Land Use Policies

Community-scale urban design land use policies and practices involve the efforts of urban planners, architects, engineers, developers, and public health professionals to change the physical environment of urban areas of several square miles or more in ways that support physical activity. They include the following.

  • Design elements that address:
    • Proximity of residential areas to stores, jobs, schools, and recreation areas
    • Continuity and connectivity of sidewalks and streets
    • Aesthetic and safety aspects of the physical environment
  • Policy instruments such as zoning regulations, building codes, other governmental policies, and builders’ practices

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends design and land use policies and practices that support physical activity in urban areas of several square miles or more based on sufficient evidence of effectiveness in facilitating an increase in physical activity.

Results from the Systematic Review

Twelve studies qualified for the review and evaluated a variety of effect measures.

  • Most of the studies compared the behavior of residents in automobile-oriented (or suburban) communities with those in traditional (or urban) communities.
  • Overall, the median improvement in some aspect of physical activity (e.g., number of walkers or bicyclists) was 161%.
  • Additional benefits that may have been brought about by these interventions included:
    • Improvements in green space
    • Increased sense of community and decreased isolation
    • Increased consumer choice for places to live
    • Reduced crime and stress
  • Increased walking and bicycling on urban streets, although beneficial, also pose the risk of increased injury to pedestrian or cyclist, because of increased exposure to motor vehicles.

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice, and policy related to increasing physical activity.

Supporting Materials


Heath GW, Brownson RC, Kruger J, et al. The effectiveness of urban design and land use and transport policies and practices to increase physical activity: a systematic review. Journal of Physical Activity and Health 2006;3(Suppl 1):S55-76.

Read other Community Guide publications about Increasing Physical Activity in our library.


The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Environmental and policy approaches to increase physical activity: community-scale urban design land use policies. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: June 2004