The built environment and its relationship to the public's health: the legal framework

Am J Public Health. 2003 Sep;93(9):1390-4. doi: 10.2105/ajph.93.9.1390.


The built environment significantly affects the public's health. This was most obvious when infectious disease was the primary public health threat during the industrial revolution; unsanitary conditions and overcrowded urban areas facilitated the spread of infection. However, even today in the age of chronic diseases there remains an important connection between population health and the built environment. Physical spaces can expose people to toxins or pollutants and influence lifestyles that contribute to diabetes, coronary vascular disease, and asthma. Public health advocates can help shape the design of cities and suburbs in ways that improve public health, but to do so effectively they need to understand the legal framework. This article reviews the connection between public health and the built environment and then describes the legal pathways for improving the design of our built environment.

MeSH terms

  • Building Codes / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • City Planning / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Community Health Planning / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Consumer Advocacy / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Environment Design / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Environment Design / trends
  • Environmental Health / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Healthy People Programs
  • Housing / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Politics
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Public Health / trends
  • Social Change
  • Taxes
  • United States / epidemiology