13 Sep 2019, 11:51

How good building design can address the UK’s 10 biggest health risks

In the UK, we have some of the highest life expectancies in the world (79.2 years for males and 82.9 years for females). Our healthcare system and increased awareness about the importance of diet and exercise are major contributing factors for this, but our western lifestyles still pose some very common avoidable risk factors that lead to early death or disability.

The 10 most common modifiable risk factors* (MRFs) - likely to cause early death or disability in the UK are:

  1. Smoking
  2. High blood pressure
  3. High body-mass index
  4. Alcohol use
  5. High total cholesterol
  6. High fasting plasma glucose
  7. Low whole grains
  8. Drug use
  9. Low fruit
  10. Ambient particulate matter

*according to ‘The Global Burden of Disease Study’ from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington

The key thing to note with this list is that these are the modifiable risks factors and therefore can be influenced, typically by one of these three factors: behaviour, metabolism and environment. By changing people’s behaviours, diets and environments, these risks can be mitigated, and that is where good building design and office culture can play a part.

A recent study by The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), has reviewed these 10 most common modifiable risk factors and identified ways in which the built environment can assist us in overcoming them, thus improving wellbeing, quality of life and life expectancy.

The WELL programme is an initiative launched by US ‘public benefit corporation’ The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) in 2014. Its goal is to advance the idea that the way buildings are designed, constructed and operated are powerful opportunities to positively impact human health and well-being.

WELL differs from other building certification programmes, such as LEED, in that it has a greater focus on the people working within a building, and their health, rather than the building itself.

The WELL framework has a wide range of recommendations for building design to promote wellbeing. In their ‘United Kingdom Country Brief’ report, WELL mapped the 10 most common MRFs listed above to features of the WELL programme, and identified those features of the programme that would help to address the biggest health challenges facing the UK population.

Those features identified in the report were:

  1. Health Services and Benefits
  2. Smoke-Free Environment
  3. Tobacco Prevention and Cessation
  4. Mental Health Promotion
  5. Mental Health Support
  6. Substance Use Education and Services
  7. Fruits and Vegetables
  8. Food Production
  9. Local Food Environment
  10. Refined Ingredients

At first glance this list of recommendations appears to be beyond the remit of the typical employer, or office manager. What it does demonstrate however, is that benefits such as private medical cover, programmes to encourage staff to quit smoking, and the provision of mental health and addiction support could have a major positive impact on the health and wellbeing of your staff and the wider community.

To learn more about the WELL programme visit: https://www.wellcertified.com/certification/v2/