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Why Great Britain’s rural areas may not be as healthy as we think

By Mark Green at CDRC in Liverpool

New research by the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) has produced the most detailed investigation into the features of neighborhoods that impact health across the whole of Great Britain.

An index has been created by research considering a variety of environmental factors to determine which cities have the healthiest population. The health index, "Access to Healthy Assets and Hazards (AHAH)", is available as an interactive map at the end of this story. The map shows the overall AHAH index for inhabited land parcels, the slider on the right side could be used to pick the particular part of the index and one could freely zoom and out of the map to concentrate on a particular region. The interactive map includes a variety of measures of accessibility to environment features such as retails outlets that may be bad for their health (e.g. fast food outlets, pubs, gambling outlets), health services (e.g. GPs, hospitals, dentists) and overall environmental quality (e.g. air quality, green space). All of these information have also been summarised into the overall AHAH index which identifies how ‘healthy’ a neighbourhood is based on this information.

LondonLondon

AHAH identifies many inner London areas as the unhealthiest neighbourhoods in Great Britain. This is due to their high levels of air pollutants (you can identify Heathrow to the West of the city), and the high density of unhealthy retail outlets. Not all of London is bad; Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common stand out as healthy pockets in the middle of the city.

It is not just urban areas which perform poorly on AHAH. The rural county of Lincolnshire might imply images of clean environments and idyllic conditions, however this is not represented in AHAH.

LincolnshireLincolnshire

Rather, looking at data on air quality reveals higher levels of some air pollutants across the county. Particulate Matter (PM10) is more prevalent in the South reflecting the dominance of farming, while other pollutants are higher in the more industrial Northern parts of the county.

 Level of PM10Lincolnshire: Level of PM10

The theme of unhealthy rural areas continues in Scotland. Whilst this may appear initially erroneous, AHAH identifies alternative perceptions of what constitutes a healthy environment – that is, accessibility to health services.

ScotlandScotland

Rural Scotland does not suffer from higher levels of air pollution like Lincolnshire; instead, accessibility to key services (GP services as shown; the pattern is similar for all other service types) is limited. Many of these areas are geographically isolated which may disadvantage individuals wanting to use facilities who are unable to travel long distances resulting in worsening health.

 access to GPsScotland: access to GPs

So what constitutes a healthy environment? The ‘healthiest’ place to live in Great Britain was ‘Great Torrington’ in North Devon. The small market town has low levels of pollution, good access to parks and green space, few retail outlets that may encourage poor health-related behaviours, and good access to health services.

 Great Britain's healthiest hubGreat Torrington: Great Britain's healthiest hub

While Great Torrington might not be representative of Great Britain, it highlights the key features for designing healthy environments. The areas that performed well on AHAH tended to be located in the outer suburbs where they were located close to health services, but away from damaging aspects of environments.

All information is openly available to download via our data portal.

Explore the full interactive map here.
Explore the rest of the indicators site here.