Healthy Cities


Healthy Cities is a World Health Organization (WHO) global project designed to engage local governments in health development in their communities.


The goal of Healthy Cities is to ensure that health is a priority for city and local governments around the world. According to Healthy Cities, health should be on communities' social, political, and economic agendas. WHO believes that local governments can help promote health and well-being for their citizens. The global project's purpose is to provide a framework and support for local city efforts aimed at improving health in communities around the world.


As of fall 2012, WHO reported that 90 cities were members of the European Healthy Cities Network. In addition, there were 30 national networks around the world that included a total of 1,400 cities within them. At least 200 communities in the United States have declared themselves healthy communities, focusing largely on environmental and sustainability issues. Overall, the organizational structure of the Americas' program is not yet as formal as in other continents and countries.


To officially be considered a Healthy Cities project, a community's most senior leadership has to commit to the principles of Healthy City projects and strategies. The community has to create a new organization or committee that is charged with managing the actions that the community will undertake as part of the Healthy Cities initiative and promise to invest in both formal and informal networks needed for constructing and ensuring community-wide cooperation in the projects. All Healthy Cities projects should propose a vision that is generally accepted within the community.


The fact that everyone in the world should enjoy a level of health that enables them to lead a socially and economically productive life is part of the WHO constitution. The concept of healthy cities emerged in the mid-1980s. Technical discussions regarding a Healthy Cities program to address urban health problems in industrialized and developing countries were held during WHO's 1991 World Health Assembly.

WHO formally established the Healthy Cities project in 1996. It began with a small-scale European project and 11 pilot cities in 1983, and now has healthy cities in all of WHO's six regions. The program has grown in phases, with the first phase introducing the concept running from 1987 through 1992, phase II lasting from 1993 through 1997, phase III requiring a more systematic approach from 1998 through 2002, and phase IV launching in 2003. Phase V began in 2009.


The Healthy Cities program has grown in participation and scope of work. With each phase, new cities and networks have joined the project and new or expanded goals have been added. For example, when phase IV was launched at the 2003 International Healthy Cities Conference, it emphasized healthy aging, healthy urban planning, impact assessment, and physical activity.

A great deal of progress has been made in Europe. For example, a project in Swansea, Wales, has developed an accelerated program to reduce health inequalities in the city and county. Helsinki, Finland, set up a series of neighborhood houses for local gathering places and action. The project solved problems with isolation because of cold weather and a high number of people living alone. Most of the neighborhood houses are run by volunteers. In Latvia, five network cities developed new drug and alcohol abuse programs in 2002 and more applied for project funding.

Beyond Europe, the Healthy Cities concept and infrastructure has been firmly rooted in many countries around the world. For example, Thailand has a structure and annual budget in place. The current phase of Healthy Cities (phase V) emphasizes health and health equality in communities' local policies. It addresses issues such as age, citizenship, health literacy, prevention of disease, violence, injuries, and drug and alcohol abuse. Healthy urban settings also are a priority of phase V of Healthy Cities. WHO offers a framework for helping cities determine inequities, along with evidence of determinants of health. It has been suggested that WHO compile a list of successes and advice from Healthy Cities that have been through programs to help those just forming Healthy Cities initiatives.

See also World Health Organization .



Ritsatakis, Anna. Healthy Cities Tackle the Social Determinants of Inequities in Health: A Framework for Action. Copenhagen, Denmark: World Health Organization, 2012.


World Health Organization. “Healthy Cities.” (accessed October 15, 2012).


World Health Organization Europe, Scherfigsvej 8, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark, 45391-1717,, .

Teresa G. Odle

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.