Is your city making you sick?

Fiona Bull can tell if your city is making you sick just by looking at how easy it is to walk around—and she plans to use this knowledge of good city design to help reduce global physical inactivity by 10 per cent by 2025.


As the director of the Centre for Built Environment and Health at the University of Western Australia, she is leading a team focused on designing walkable communities to help prevent disease and provide healthy places for young and old.

Perth’s Fiona Bull says good city design can keep you fitter. Credit: Matt Galligan
Perth’s Fiona Bull says good city design can keep you fitter. Credit: Matt Galligan

“A walkable city is almost a proxy for a healthy city,” Fiona explains. “It should be well connected and easy to get around by walking, and should have a good mix of land types, including retail and residential areas, as well as a good number of public spaces like parks.” But quality and function are at least as important as the number of parks in a community for improving the lifestyles of its residents.

Fiona was the first scientist to work out the role of physical activity in preventing chronic disease, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and how best to measure people’s physical behaviours.

Her 20 years of research provides much of the evidence used by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says physical inactivity is one of the four leading causes of chronic disease, along with smoking, alcohol and obesity.

Fiona recently went to the Middle East, which has some of the highest rates of physical inactivity in the world. She was helping to raise awareness of the importance of exercising and creating better designed cities to prevent chronic disease.

By making these and other cities more walkable, Fiona hopes to help reduce levels of physical inactivity globally by 10 per cent by 2025—a target developed through her work as a senior adviser to the WHO.

Fiona was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Prince William last year. She is also the president of the International Society for Physical Activity and Health.

For more information: The University of Western Australia, Fiona Bull, fiona.bull@uwa.edu.au, www.sph.uwa.edu.au/research/cbeh

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