Healthy living environment and policy

How can we promote individual healthy behaviour and protect people from health risks? Policymakers at provincial, local and community level face the complex challenge of creating a healthy living environment. These difficult issues include both physical and social aspects.

Knowledge for policy on a healthy living environment

Policymakers are the ones who have to find a way to achieve the goals of various ministries, which are not always completely aligned. We support policymakers by making existing knowledge available, ensuring new knowledge is developed and connecting different parties. We do this not only internally, between ZonMw departments, but also externally with five ministries, several knowledge partners, local authorities, professional practitioners, patients, the public, data professionals and international partners.

Many different topics

A healthy living environment is an environment that promotes people’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. This means that policymakers have to take an integrated approach to a ‘playing field’ that is large and complex.

The topics involved are diverse, ranging from climate change and infectious disease to environmental pollution and diet. Our staff have the expertise to connect policymakers, researchers, educators and practitioners on all these different topics.

Systems theory and the Action Scales Model

Many health problems are the result of a complex system of factors, so a one-sided approach will not have much impact. James Nobles developed the Action Scales Model (only available in Dutch) as a tool to help in this.

Lots of knowledge still fragmented

When promoting a healthy living environment, there is no need for anyone to start from scratch. A great deal of relevant knowledge already exists in various organisations, at various levels, on lots of topics. Unfortunately, this knowledge is often fragmented, and difficult to disseminate and to apply. We have been commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality to work on a programme in collaboration with the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) which will enable all parties to make choices in their ambition to achieve a healthy living environment. 

What works for whom?

The envisaged outcomes of the programme are easily accessible data, knowledge, practical tools and examples of good practice. Policymakers will then be able to use a step-by-step plan or guideline to establish whether they are on the right path with their plans and initiatives. An infrastructure is also needed that ensures parties can easily contact one another, and have access to the same knowledge. This will also make it easier to identify what new knowledge is needed. As in any ZonMw programme, monitoring and evaluation are also high on the agenda, to establish what works for whom.

Research questions sometimes unknown

It is also not always clear what knowledge needs to be developed. This was particularly true of climate change and microplastics, so we the Climate and Health Knowledge Agenda, as well as the Microplastics and Health Knowledge Agenda, in collaboration with other funding organisations. These knowledge agendas identify the gaps in the knowledge and where the focus needs to be. Besides knowledge questions, the Microplastics and Health Knowledge Agenda also sets out promising directions for research and innovation. The Climate and Health Knowledge Agenda highlights the importance of collaboration between different disciplines.

Public participation

The Healthy Living Environment programme will tie in closely with certain ongoing ZonMw programmes, including Climate and Health, and Make space for health. Participation by members of the public and/or experiential experts is required in all these programmes. We have had a lot of experience of working with the public and with experiential experts, and can help policymakers do the same. Coordination with the Citizen Science for Health and Care programme is also a must. 

Living labs

Living labs are a form of public participation we have experience with. In a 'living lab' the white lab coats and trial subjects are replaced by ‘local innovators’, members of the public. They are asked to contribute ideas about their own living environment. New ideas emerge and innovations are tested and improved in the ‘real world’.

GALA presented to parliament

More attention, more money and smart collaboration for a healthier society – this is what the Healthy and Active Life Pact (known by the Dutch acronym GALA) sets out to achieve. It has now been presented to parliament by the minister and state secretary of health. The GALA sets out arrangements for collaboration on disease prevention, for example. See the Ministry’s press release (only available in Dutch).

Remain informed?


Yara ten Pas
Programme manager Healthy living environment
glo [at]
Marije van der Kamp
Programme secretary Healthy living environment
glo [at]