The environment in which we live, work, learn and play has an impact on our health. A healthy living environment is safe and attractive, invites everyone to engage with one another, promotes healthy behaviours, and is pleasant to live in. RIVM shares knowledge and provides information on the healthy design of our environment and the influence of the physical and social environment on health.

Healthy and sustainable solutions for the living environment: green and blue spaces

Challenges such as climate change, ageing population, increase in sedentary lifestyles and obesity call for healthy and sustainable solutions at the international, national, regional and local level. RIVM contributes to the development and evaluation of these solutions by integrating knowledge, research and health impact assessments.

We provide knowledge on the development of healthy spatial planning, for example, in the framework of the new Dutch Environment and Planning Act.  RIVM has expertise in healthy urban living and green and blue spaces in particular. We evaluate the positive and negative health impacts of potential solutions to improve the environment, such as introducing blue and green spaces in cities. Blue spaces such as water fountains, ponds, rivers, and green spaces such as parks and public gardens positively impact health and well-being by providing shade and physical activity and relaxation opportunities.  They are also important in the light of climate adaptation (storage of excess water, a decrease of urban temperature). Therefore, it is essential to develop and maintain the green and blue spaces so that health benefits are maximised and risks (e.g. allergens, infectious diseases) are minimised.

We have expertise in observational tools for evaluating and improving blue and green spaces, developed in FP7 project PHENOTYPE, Horizon 2020 project INHERIT, and Horizon 2020 project BlueHealth. BlueHealth, in particular, focused on understanding how water-based environments in towns and cities can affect health and wellbeing.

RIVM is also involved in the ‘Dutch City deal’ on the value of green and blue spaces in cities, in collaboration with municipalities, landscape architects, a gardening association and other advisors. The aim is to develop decision support tools and instruments that value the multiple benefits of nature-based solutions in urban areas, including health benefits. These tools and instruments can help urban planners build the case to include green and blue spaces in the urban fabric, thus leading to a  ‘healthy, resilient and inclusive city of tomorrow’.  Read more about healthy cities.

Lifestyles and behaviour

RIVM was involved in international projects such as the Horizon 2020 project INHERIT in which lifestyles and behaviours were explored to see how they can be changed in the areas of living (e.g. green spaces), moving and consuming in order to promote a triple win for health, environmental sustainability and equity.  We have expertise in Health Impact Assessment, including (societal and environmental cost-benefit analysis and cost-effectiveness. We use the Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach, which involves multiple policy sectors collaborating to promote and protect the population’s health and address health inequalities. HiAP considers the individual lifestyle and wider health determinants, including physical and social environment, prevention and care. HiAP encompasses interaction with different stakeholders (including citizens).  

RIVM also has knowledge about resident participation, an important prerequisite for a healthy local living environment. We have already established a track record in citizen science in sub-sectors such as air quality. In addition, we share data and knowledge of community interventions on the environment, lifestyles and health.

Another source of information is RIVM’s foresight studies, which provide insight into future developments in population health and its determinants. RIVM uses integrated environmental health indicators, conducts international monitoring and review activities, e.g. environmental health inequalities for the World Health Organization (WHO)  and works towards achieving the UN United Nations  (United Nations ) Sustainable Development Goals.