Health and sustainability varies widely across England

Issue date: 14 December 2009

Institute for Sustainability, Health and Environment A new study by experts at the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) has revealed wide and significant variations in the health and sustainability of populations across England.

Researchers in the Institute for Sustainability, Health and Environment (ISHE) at UWE Bristol, ranked and mapped local authority areas using different 'dimensions' of sustainability, health and environment. These dimensions, created by the research team using advanced statistical methods, represent combinations of important aspects of health and sustainability, including measures of 'consumption of resources', 'environment and settlement pattern', and 'health, wealth and housing'.

Data for each local authority was gathered from routine sources, with the 22 indicators included in the Local Sustainable Development Lens (LSDL) acting as the starting point for the indicators to be included in the analysis. The LSDL is designed to help track progress towards sustainability at a local level.

The South West tops the country as the healthiest and most sustainable region, having the highest average of local authorities placed in the best 20% for the five dimensions used in the ranking exercise. Across the country however the pattern is complex, with no single local authority or region being good on every measure.

The mapping found that local authorities often share characteristics of sustainability, health and environment with their neighbours. This suggests local authorities may need to work together at a sub-regional level to address sustainability issues.

The study also found that those areas with more aspirational population characteristics (such as good health and greater wealth) often have a high ecological footprint – meaning that they use a greater amount of the earth's resources. This throws up the challenge of how to maintain good health and economic well-being in disadvantaged areas in a way that does not increase the ecological footprint of our society as a whole.

Dr Paul Pilkington, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, said “Our study illustrates the wide differences in health and sustainability of populations across England. It is however a complex picture. No single local authority is good on every measure, though populations in some local authorities are much more healthy and sustainable overall than others.

“For example, Bristol is in the top 20% of the country in terms of low levels of car use and ownership, domestic CO2 production, and it has a relatively low level of energy consumption and waste output. However, the population has relatively high levels of poverty and ill health, and shorter life expectancies.”

Professor James Longhurst, co-director of ISHE said, “This study highlights the inherent conflicts between different objectives of sustainability and health. Local authorities may have populations that are healthy and wealthy, yet consume a large amount of natural resources. The challenge for public policy, and local agencies, is how to improve standards of living in ways that do not increase the ecological footprint of an area.”

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