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Healthier environments

Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng
School of Health and Society

Redesigning urban environments to support better health

Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng actively engages with people and organisations to co-produce research with the goal to promote better health among children and mothers.

This goal stems from previous work in which she found levels of obesity among young disadvantaged women aged between 15 and 24 that were only reached by those in more affluent neighbourhoods later in life – if at all.

“My research suggests that we need to provide better environments from the start to prevent these health inequalities from emerging,” she says.

A/Prof Feng is building a portfolio of evidence that will inform the design of built and natural environments to enable healthier lifestyles and stronger social development in the early years. And this information is in demand if the funding, partnerships and recognition A/Prof Feng has already attracted is anything to go by.

A major boost has been the receipt of a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Career Development Fellowship, which will involve analysis of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and collaborations with other leading researchers in Australia and around the world. A/Prof Feng will examine how changes in urban design – for example, urban greening strategies – could help to optimise the development of physical, social and emotional wellbeing early in life.

How these greening and open space designs lay the foundation for better health throughout adulthood is also the focus of another ongoing study she co-leads with colleague Associate Professor Thomas Astell-Burt, co-funded by Hort Innovation’s Green Cities Fund.

The Greener Cities, Healthier Lives project is examining green space and health across the life-course. A/Prof Feng leads her team to investigate how urban greening could help to prevent low birthweights, improve levels of emotional wellbeing and academic performance among children, and support healthier minds and bodies among young mothers.

Working with organisations like Hort Innovation Ltd provides A/Prof Feng’s research with a roadmap for social impact across the country.

Nationally, her findings on the health benefits of urban greening have already fed into the 202020 Vision that aims to make Australian cities 20 per cent greener by 2020.

Locally, A/Prof Feng’s research has had a direct impact on the development of Wollongong City Council’s Urban Greening Strategy 2017-2037.

The benefits of translating her work into policy and practice could benefit the nation by boosting educational attainment, increasing worker productivity and reducing preventable hospitalisations.

“Working with policymakers and practitioners to co-design and translate my research and to see it driving positive change for local communities makes a career in science truly special,” A/Prof Feng says.