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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Anne Vernez-Moudon
URBDP 598
Seattle Campus

Special Topics

Systematic study of specialized subject matter. Topics vary for each quarter, depending upon current interest and needs, and are announced in the preceding quarter. Prerequisite: permission of instructor.

Class description

This graduate seminar focuses on the interactions between the built environment and human health. First shaped by socioeconomic, cultural, and political forces, the built environment then contributes to shaping the way people carry on activities related to everyday life, work, and play. People°¶s life styles therefore first contribute to shape and then go on to be shaped by the built environment.

With respect to health, people have enjoyed tremendous gains over the past century. Life expectancy has almost doubled thanks to the availability of food as well as medications curbing infectious diseases, and to technology making work less exerting and facilitating the performance of life-supporting daily activities. Overall, daily life today is much less demanding of the human body and many if not most of the diseases that used to be agents of death can now be effectively treated. At one level, health issues today are primarily social and economic, as the less fortunate strata of society do not have proper access to health care. At another level, however, the deadly infectious diseases of the past are being replaced by chronic diseases that are now threatening to lower the life expectancy of future generations. Cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancers are becoming leading agents of early death. These chronic diseases have been labeled life style diseases. Evidence exists that their prevalence is due to exceedingly sedentary life styles and to poor eating habits. Many people lack balance in their energy intake and expenditure. Indeed, the majority of the population is physically inactive and many eat too much and eat foods that are low in nutrients.

The seminar will explore how the current life styles that are related to the rise of chronic diseases are affected by the built environment, and how the built environment creates barriers and opportunities to healthy behaviors. It will also address how urban environmental conditions may affect mental health and other non-communicable diseases such as respiratory and neurological ailments.

A range of topics will be explored through readings and discussions. Students are expected to do the assigned readings prior to the seminar sessions and to contribute to the discussions. Students will keep reading notes using EndNote. They will produce a 4,000 word paper and a short presentation on a topic of choice.

Student learning goals

• Understand the attributes of the built environment and the forces that shape it

• Understand the characteristics of behaviors and life styles that may lead to chronic disease

• Become familiar with the literature covering, and the research methods investigating the relationship between the built environment and health

• Gain knowledge about the ways in which the built environment can be modified to support healthy behaviors and life styles

• Become familiar with approaches and methods to modify the built environment to enhance health

General method of instruction

A range of topics will be explored through readings, class presentations, and discussions.

Recommended preparation

Students can select to read either of the following books: Ét Howard Frumkin, Lawrence D Frank, Richard Jackson. Urban Sprawl and Public Health Designing, Planning, and Building for Healthy, Island Press, Washington, 2004, or Ét Lawrence D. Frank, Peter O. Engelke, Thomas L. Schmid, Health and Community Design: The Impact of the Built Environment on Physical Activity, Island Press, Washington, 2003

Class assignments and grading

Students are expected to do the assigned readings prior to the seminar sessions and to contribute to the discussions. Students will keep reading notes using EndNote. They will produce a 4,000 word paper and a short presentation on a topic of choice.

Class participation will account for 35% of the grade and assignments for 65%.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Anne Vernez-Moudon
Date: 01/07/2008