Over the past century, advances in infrastructure and the quality of the built environment have contributed to a drastic reduction in infectious diseases in the U.S. However, a coinciding shift toward a more sedentary lifestyle for a majority of Americans has spurred a similarly sharp increase in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes – which are now among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health issues. Add the psychological and physiological impacts of increased levels of mental stress and you have health-related productivity losses on the magnitude of $225 billion dollars annually for U.S. employers.
Yet, a significant body of research and historical case studies have demonstrated that the design and quality of the built environment can have a positive impact on population health. As it did for infectious disease a century ago, design must once again be leveraged as an fundamental tool for the creation and management of healthier spaces. This is where Active Design comes in.
What is Active Design?
According to the Center for Active Design (CfAD), Active Design is “an evidence-based approach to development that identifies urban planning and architecture solutions to support healthy communities.”
Active Design is grounded in the idea that the design of the built environment can have a profound and positive impact on improving public health. It builds on health research showing that design can impact today’s biggest challenges around the physical, mental, and social well-being of communities around the world.
The non-profit CfAD has provided a number of publications and resources to help design teams, policy makers, real estate developers, and clarify the case for, and successfully pursue, Active Design principles in the built environment.
For design teams looking for guidance to realize a comprehensive approach to Active Design in building projects, Fitwel may be a great tool.
Fitwel: A Rating System for Active Design
Fitwel is a high impact building certification designed to support healthier workplace environments and improve occupant health and productivity. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA) led the development of Fitwel, garnering input from experts in public health and design and reviewing more than 3,000 scientific studies. The CfAD is the operator of Fitwel, leading its widespread adoption and future development.
Fitwel includes 63 evidence-based design and policy strategies that enhance building environments by addressing a broad range of health behaviors and risks. Each strategy within the certification tool is linked by scientific evidence to at least one of Fitwel’s seven Health Impact Categories (see figure below).