The aim of this University of Glasgow urban land use study of 233 European cities within 24 countries was to determine whether the range and distribution of land uses within European cities are associated with city death rates.

For each city satellite data was used to calculate the total area of individual land uses including residential, industrial and greenspaces. Cities with more natural areas and less dense, non-residential land were associated with lower death rates. More roads, industry and derelict land in cities were associated with higher death rates.

There is pressure to build on urban natural spaces, both for economic gain and because compact cities are regarded as more sustainable, yet in the study there is evidence that doing so may detract from residents’ health. The study suggests that urban planners and developers need to regard retaining more wild and unstructured green space as important for healthy city systems.

In 2014, 54% of the world’s population lived in urban environments - this is set to rise to 66% by 2050. It is therefore important that urban environments are designed to enable and promote good health. Urban areas are complex systems and one emergent feature is the health of their residents. There are stark between-city inequalities in population health and research suggests that a city environment itself is an important influence.