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Zoning to Encourage Physical Activity

Zoning is primarily a function of local government and typically is used as a device for planning.  Zoning may be used to restrict land use or incentivize development of the land in a particular way.  Zoning may define use (e.g. commercial vs. residential) or development (e.g. lot size, building height, etc.).  From a public health perspective, zoning can be used to promote physical activity, increase safety and promote good nutrition.  Examples of local jurisdictions using zoning to promote physical activity include:  promoting parks and recreation, requiring sidewalks, promoting the use of public transportation and incentivizing schools and similar facilities to encourage joint use by the community after traditional hours of operation. 

Background Information

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    • The CDC maintains a physical activity webpage intended for the general public that describes the benefits of physical activity.  Links include, "Physical Activity for Everyone,"  "Growing Stronger-Strength Training for Older Adults" and Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight.” 
    • The CDC maintains a physical activity resource website for health professionals that provide reports and recommendations related to physical activity.  The website includes a series of links that takes the reader to landmark documents about physical activity and health.  For example, links are available to the “Healthy People 2010 Physical Activity Objectives,” the 1999 Surgeon General’s report on physical activity and health, and the 2010 “U.S. National Physical Activity Plan.”
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (Guidelines).  The Guidelines describe major research findings about the benefits of being physically active throughout your lifespan.  The Guidelines also describe recommended levels of exercise for children and adolescents, adults, and older adults.



Landmark Case Related to Zoning

  • VILLAGE OF EUCLID, OHIO v. AMBLER REALTY CO., 272 U.S. 365 (1926),
    • In this Supreme Court decision, the court established precedent that a local government is acting constitutionally when it establishes a zoning ordinance so long as the rationale for zoning has a rational public purpose related to public safety, health or welfare.  The creation of a zoning ordinance is not an arbitrary act and local governments have the authority to zone and enforce zoning ordinances as an extension of their police power.

Model Law and Policy Information related to Zoning and Physical Activity

  • Public Health Law and Policy (PHLP)
    • PHLP is a non-profit organization that demonstrates how legal and policy strategies can improve public health.  PHLP maintains a website with links to laws and policy related information for both nutrition and physical activity.  Examples of the physical activity links include joint use agreements, liability risk assessments for using schools after hours, and safe routes to schools.
    • An option for promoting physical activity in the community is opening school grounds to the community after hours.  PHLP provides a toolkit for increasing physical activity through joint use agreements.  The PHLP website listed below, last updated in January 2010, and includes a complete toolkit with links to chapters and appendices.
  • Active Living by Design (ALBD)
    • The vision of ALBD is healthy communities, where routine physical activity and healthy eating are accessible, easy and affordable to everyone.  ALBD maintains a website with current information about land use strategies (planning, legal, and policy) to promote physical activity.  The website includes fact sheets, case studies, news stories, tool kits and other resources.
  • Local Government Commission (LGC)
    • The LGC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization that provides technical assistance and networking to local elected officials and other community leaders who are working to create healthy, walkable, and resource-efficient communities.  The link on their home page titled “Community Design” will lead to a page that includes another link near the bottom of the page titled “free resources.”   The first link is for LGC’s home page and the “free resources” link is listed as the second link below.


  • Healthy Eating Active Living Cities Campaign (HEAL)
    • HEAL provides training and technical assistance about policies and law to city government officials with an interest in improving their communities’ environment to increase physical activity.  Based in California, HEAL is a program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and it partners with the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, League of California Cities and the Cities, Counties and School Partnership.  HEAL maintains an up-to-date website with resources on zoning to improve physical activity in the community setting.
  • Healthy States Initiative (HSI)
  • Partners in Action
    • Partners in Action is a consortium of more than 700 partners representing more than 250 organizations, agencies, and programs that have pledged to put the Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan into action.  Their work contributed to the Washington State Legislature passing Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5186 in July 2005 that requires, “wherever possible, the land use element [of comprehensive zoning plans] should consider utilizing urban planning approaches that promote physical activity.”   
  • American Planning Association (APA)
    • APA has available on its website a publication titled, “Planning, Public Health and Physical Activity.”  The document is only available through the APA Bookstore for a cost of $30.  The document includes articles, comprehensive plans, model ordinances, and fact sheets.  The website includes a link to preview the table of contents.
  • International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
    • The ICMA mission is to create excellence in local governance by advocating and developing the professional management of local government worldwide. ICMA provides publications, data, information, technical assistance, and training to local government leaders and staff. The ICMA has two documents related to zoning and physical activity. Both ICMA documents were published in 2005 and are available on the ICMA website at no cost. The first publication is, "Creating a regulatory Blueprint for Healthy Community Design: A Local Government Guide to reforming Zoning and Land Development Codes." The second publication is, "Active Living and Social Equality: Creating Healthy Communities for All Residents."

DISCLAIMER: Information available on this website that was not developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily represent any CDC policy, position, or endorsement of that information or of its sources. The information contained on this website is not legal advice; if you have questions about a specific law or its application you should consult your legal counsel.

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