In 2000, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health issued a report that explored some of the ways in which "sprawl" impacts public health. The report has generated great interest, and state health officials are beginning to discuss the relationship between land use and public health. The CDC report has also produced a backlash. For example, the Southern California Building Industry Association labeled the report "a ludicrous sham" and argued that the CDC should stick to "fighting physical diseases, not defending political ones."
In this environment, it is understandable if the CDC looks to such critiques as simply the latest partisan recruit to a political debate. But critics of the CDC's efforts in this area may substantially overstate their case in the other direction. There is now and has long been a demonstrated connection between health, including "physical disease," and the built environment. Moreover, government has intervened in the past in response to this connection and it continues to do so. While neither past practice nor current evidence make government intervention inevitable, this paper argues that such intervention is appropriate and supported by theory as well as history and empirical evidence.
Wendy C. Perdue et al., Public Health and the Built Environment: Historical, Empirical, and Theoretical Foundations for an Expanded Role, 31 J.L. Med. & Ethics 557 (2003)