Data Insight: Exploring the complex relationship between legislation, policies and research: Built Environments And Child Health in WalEs and AuStralia (BEACHES)

This Data Insight focuses on the work being carried out by the Built Environments And Child Health in WalEs and AuStralia (BEACHES) team in Swansea University. BEACHES is a joint initiative between Swansea University, the Telethon Kids Institute, and the University of Western Australia, with collaborators from Curtin University, Monash University, Queensland University of Technology, and University of Southern Denmark. It provides a summary of key Welsh legislation and policy areas on the built environment and child health. We describe the data used in the BEACHES project and present the statistical analysis to be conducted, as well as the dissemination process and engagement with stakeholders throughout the project.

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Unhealthy diets resulting in overweight/obesity and physical inactivity in children and young people are two of the most significant modifiable risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Research demonstrates links between the built environment (BE) and aspects of urban design, transportation, land-use planning, and health outcomes in adults. However, limited evidence exists on the role of the BE in promoting child health, and the opportunities it presents for increasing physical activity, encouraging a healthy diet, and reducing obesity.


The BEACHES project is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council (UKRI-MRC), Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It is an innovative research project that examines the impact of the BE on risk factors for NCDs in children using existing UK and Australian longitudinal population level data. 

This study aims to bring together five large cohort studies that have collected detailed longitudinal anthropometric, physical activity, and contextual data on more than one million children in Wales and Australia. High resolution spatial data and cutting-edge geospatial techniques are applied to construct a harmonised set of metrics (such as an index of walkability) that characterise the BEs that each child has inhabited throughout their childhood. These metrics are analysed to quantify the role that different BE characteristics have on healthy weight, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and diet. Detailed information on this project can be found elsewhere.

The project includes:

  • Identifying key policy areas that have been implemented in Wales and Australia
  • Building on the interdisciplinary teams’ expertise in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) developing child-centric models of the BE that incorporate relevant policy interventions at different time points and at different geographic scales
  • Examining the influence of the BE on child NCDs through a series of statistical analyses
  • Communicating evidence to policymakers to assist in the design of impactful policy that could modify the BE to reduce childhood obesity and ultimately NCDs. 

Public Health Wales has published a suite of documents to help inform and enable healthier future environments, including strategies to stem the rise in obesity in Wales.  The BEACHES project is complementing this drive for change, with a specific focus on children.

Why it matters

Developing a better understanding of how the BE drives overweight/obesity by either promoting or inhibiting modifiable risk factors could inform evidence-based planning, policy, and practice strategies to improve child health in future generations. Engaging stakeholders throughout the project could develop a better understanding about how the BE contributes to childhood obesity. It could also support policy evaluation, development, and implementation.  

We have identified stakeholders and policymakers that can act in advisory roles. Our stakeholders include health service commissioners, government departments of planning, transport, and health, planning officials, urban planners, building industry developers, and key advocacy non-governmental organisations, such as the British Heart Foundation and Active Healthy Kids Wales, as well as third sector and voluntary agencies. We are engaging with stakeholders at key points throughout the project using appropriated frameworks (such as ‘appreciative inquiry’) to inform our quantitative research findings and translate them into stakeholder engagement activities. 

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