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Urban Health and City Planning

10-29-2014 07:03 PM CET | Health & Medicine

Press release from: German Center for Research and Innovation

Urban environments and the planning processes that shape them are strong determinants of public health. On Monday, November 3, join city planners and healthcare experts at the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) in New York for a discussion on how to plan healthier cities for the future.

NEW YORK (October 28, 2014) – By 2050, over two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, yet we have only recently begun to understand how the design of our residential environment can prevent or promote health equality. Many cities face a triple threat: infectious diseases which thrive when people live in close proximity to one another; non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, which are on the rise as unhealthy diets, lack of physical exercise, and tobacco use persist; crime, violence, and traffic accidents also pose a serious threat. Healthy cities demand intersectoral action as the quality of urban life is determined by a complex web of factors, such as education, health care, economic development, environmental sustainability, and transportation. On Monday, November 3, 2014, a panel of experts will convene at the German Center for Research and Innovation in New York to address what interventions are needed to plan healthier cities.

Prof. Dr. Susanne Moebus, Professor of Urban Epidemiology and Head of the Centre for Urban Epidemiology at the Universität Duisburg-Essen, will begin her presentation by focusing on urban planning and public health in Germany’s Ruhr Valley. She will explain how determinants of health include social, economic, cultural, and physical environments. Since the concept of risk factors was launched in the 1960s by U.S. Framingham Heart Study investigators, research has primarily focused on behavioral and biomedical risk factors. The most well-known risk factors include smoking, poor nutrition, lack of daily physical activity, obesity, high blood pressure, and personal genetic makeup. Prof. Dr. Moebus will explain how this research approach provided profound insights into the pathogenesis of disease, tailored medical treatments, and individualized prevention strategies. As the obesity epidemic increases, however, the risk factor concept alone fails to sufficiently prevent chronic diseases like diabetes. Prof. Dr. Moebus will address how as our world becomes increasingly urbanized, researchers and policy makers are re-acknowledging the interconnectedness of urban spaces and residential environments with aspects of health.

Prof. Dr. Moebus’ talk will focus on two related projects at the Centre for Urban Epidemiology at the Institute for Medical Informatics, Biometry, and Epidemiology. She will first discuss the results of the ongoing population-based Heinz Nixdorf Recall cohort study, which examines 4,800 residents of the post-industrial metropolitan Ruhr area. The study’s data exemplify recent findings of associations of individual risk factors and cardiometabolic health outcomes, including environmental and contextual factors, such as socioeconomic status, air pollution, and noise. Second, Prof. Dr. Moebus will outline future research towards studying the health effects of the Emscher conversion project, also located in the metropolitan Ruhr area. The Emscher is a river that is now an open wastewater conduit being restored along an 80-kilometer stretch in the middle of Europe’s biggest conurbation. With a 4.5 billion euro investment and a project period of several decades, the Emscher conversion is one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects.

Dr. Karen Lee, M.D. M.H.Sc., Global Health + Built Environment Consultant for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, will also speak. Dr. Lee consults and advises cities and organizations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Asia, Europe, and Latin America as well as World Health Organization offices on issues related to the built environment and chronic diseases. Dr. Lee’s work leading the coordination across 12 New York City agencies to develop and implement the Active Design Guidelines has been named in multiple U.S. and international awards. In her presentation, Dr. Lee will discuss how the leading causes of death globally are now non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancers, which altogether are responsible for over 36 million deaths annually. Even in the developing world, these diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading causes of death, and costs from these expensive diseases threaten to bankrupt low and middle-income countries as the costs continue to rise. Just as improvements in the environment, such as sanitation measures, were the critical factor in the control of the infectious disease epidemics of the past, evidence is mounting - and in some cases, strong - that the design of our communities, neighborhoods, streets, and buildings play important roles in shaping the risk factors, such as physical inactivity and unhealthy diets, for non-communicable diseases. Dr. Lee will describe how the critical issue society faces today is taking the available research evidence and translating it into city policies and practices, especially for urban planning of cities. Doing so will not only provide opportunities for improving health, but also for other key priorities, such as environmental sustainability, universal accessibility, and economic development.

Prof. David Tulloch, Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture and Associate Director at the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, will moderate the discussion. He will draw upon his combined expertise in geographic information systems (GIS) and planning and design. As an educator, he is passionate about the urban landscape, offering design classes that interrogate these landscapes and propose interventions. His research on geospatial technologies includes mapping and analysis of spatial patterns of childhood obesity in New Jersey cities, investigations of potential greenway and open space networks for healthier landscapes, studies of potential uses of crowdsourced geographic data, and studies of local government geospatial data sharing practices.

This panel discussion will take place on Monday, November 3, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the German Center for Research and Innovation (871 United Nations Plaza, First Avenue, btw. 48th & 49th Streets). To RSVP by October 30, visit:

Unable to attend? Follow @gcri_ny and the hashtag #UrbanHealth for live tweets. A video recording will be available on shortly after the event.

This event is co-sponsored by the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) and the University Alliance Ruhr (UA Ruhr).

The German Center for Research and Innovation provides information and support for the realization of cooperative and collaborative projects between North America and Germany. With the goal of enhancing communication on the critical challenges of the 21st century, GCRI hosts a wide variety of events from lectures and exhibitions to workshops and science dinners. Opened in February 2010, GCRI was created as a cornerstone of the German government’s initiative to internationalize science and research and is one of five centers worldwide.

Media Contact:
Jennifer Audet
Communications Officer
German Center for Research and Innovation
871 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
(212) 339 8680, ext. 302

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