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Designing for Health: Nourishment – The WELL v2 Standard

by Jon Young, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Sustainability EIT II

At some point in your life you have probably heard phrases such as “You are what you eat,” “Garbage in, garbage out,” or “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” When considering the relationships between diet, nutrition, and health, these phrases all ring true.

So, why is health is not a top deciding factor for most Americans when looking at What Determines What We Eat? And how can we utilize design techniques in our built environment to encourage us to make food selections that will promote our personal health and well-being?

According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation 2011 Food and Health Survey, the main drivers of food choices for a typical American are cost and taste. Other major factors include convenience, accessibility, culture, environmental concerns, and health concerns. By designing spaces with these drivers of behavior in mind, the buildings we frequently occupy can play a significant role in promoting healthy quantities and quality of food consumption in our day-to-day lives.

Alive + Well, Designed by Matt Fajkus Architecture (Bee Cave, Texas)

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison”   

– Ann Wigmore

Health and Well-Being in the Built Environment, Concept 3: Nourishment

Issue: Worldwide, diets are generally low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Modern diets are also characterized by increasing consumption of highly refined and packaged foods which are higher in sodium, sugar, and refined fats. Dietary patterns can be strongly influenced by environmental factors.

Health Implications: Poor nutrition contributes to numerous noncommunicable and chronic diseases including gastrointestinal cancer, ischemic heart disease, and stroke. Diet-related diseases also include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. In 2010, nutritional deficiencies contributed more than 1.2 billion disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). Overweight and obesity were estimated to cause over 3 million deaths worldwide.

Solution: Buildings can be designed to promote healthy eating habits by increasing access to healthier food and beverage choices, limiting access to highly processed foods and ingredients, and designing environments that nudge individuals toward healthier choices. By designing the buildings and communities in which we spend our time to provide access to healthy foods and beverages, we are much more likely to make healthy choices and develop healthy eating habits.

The Westin at the Woodlands Project, Designed by Kirksey Architecture (The Woodlands, Texas)

WELL v2 Standard’s Recommended Strategies:

  • Ensuring the availability of fruits and vegetables in on-site food or beverage sale locations
  • Placing fruits and vegetables in highly visible locations at eye-level, such as next to cash registers, at the end of aisles, beginning of food service lines, counter-top displays, or locations that are visible from the main building entrance
  • Providing detailed nutritional information and ingredient labeling per meal or item
  • Limiting sugar content of food and beverages to no more than 25g per serving
  • Only selling food and beverage items which do not contain partially hydrogenated oils
  • Promoting healthy grains by ensuring that at least 50% of grain-based foods have whole grain as the first ingredient. It is also recommended to sell whole-grain options at the same price or cheaper than their refined-grain counterparts
  • Providing healthy food advertising, nutritional messaging, and strategic menu design to encourage healthy food choices
  • Restricting artificial ingredients for all food and beverages sold
  • Utilizing portion control to promote healthy portion sizes and reduce unintended over-consumption
  • Nutritional education program guidance such as cooking demonstrations, nutrition or dietary education workshops, individual consultations, and educational materials
  • Encourage mindful eating by providing designated eating spaces and daily meal breaks
  • Providing alternative food choices to individuals with dietary or allergy restrictions
  • Including a food preparation area to support reassembly or reheating of meals on-site
  • Implementing responsible food sourcing requirements with organic produce and Certified Humane meat, egg, or dairy products
  • Providing gardening space or planting support for on-site food production
  • Ensuring access to healthy food options via proximity to supermarkets, farmers’ markets, or other walkable markets with the sale of produce


Dietary health plays a major role in your health, longevity, and quality of life. According to the World Health Organization, “An unhealthy diet is one of the top risk factors for the global burden of disease and, together with maternal and child malnutrition, accounts for about one quarter of global deaths.”

Ultimately, we as individuals will decide what we eat and how much to consume. However, the settings in which we live, work, and gather can strongly influence our food choices. Everyone has a role. Through concerted action of designers, architects, building owners, food service professionals, and tenants, we can create environments which encourage healthy dietary choices and, over time, meaningfully improve the health of ourselves, our families, and future generations.

Hero image at top of page:
Post HTX | OMA, Hoerr Schaudt, and Powers Brown Architecture | Houston, Texas

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