Creating Supportive Environments

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The external physical, social, political, and economic environments in which people exist have a profound effect on their attitudes and behaviors. Each day, people interact with a wide range of services, systems, and pressures in settings such as schools, the workplace, home, restaurants, and fast-food outlets. In addition, laws, policies, economic imperatives, and the views of governments, industry, and society as a whole influence these settings. Each of the features of this complex system, which shapes the environment in which we live, has the capacity to inhibit or encourage appropriate dietary and physical activity patterns. The availability of open space, access to public transport, the design of suburbs, access to buildings, the perceived level of safety, provision of lighting, and many other individual individual

Figure 2 Influence of societal and environmental factors on development of obesity. (From House of Commons Health Committee (2004) Obesity: Third Report of Sessions 2003-04. Volume 1. Report Together with Formal Minutes. London: The Stationery Office Ltd.)

factors influence our capacity and desire to be more physically active in our daily lives. Similarly, advertising pressures, access to appropriate food choices, school food policies, and nutrition information and labeling all potentially influence food selection. Today, there is also a large commercial drive to promote obesogenic behaviors (cars and food are the two most advertised products on television).

Trying to motivate people to make healthy choices when the external environment works against such behaviors is a recipe for failure. Figure 2 illustrates the role that the social environment plays in assisting or inhibiting personal behavior choices made by individuals, which ultimately impact upon their health. Great success is likely to be achieved by creating a supportive environment and then promoting the healthy dietary and physical activity choices within such an environment.

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