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Health & Fitness Healthy Living

Fit Cities

My Quest to Improve the World's Health and Wellness--Including Yours

by (author) Karen K. Lee

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Jan 2020
Healthy Living, Health Care Issues, General
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2020
    List Price

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Dr. Karen K. Lee is a force for good around the world, working behind the scenes to help people improve their diets, get in shape, and live longer.

In the arena of public health, this Canadian woman is an international superstar. In the early 2000s, she went to the US to join a team of "health detectives" for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking was in decline, and so the US CDC's attention had turned to the next biggest causes of premature death: over-eating and under-exercising. Dr. Lee's zeal in seeking out the root causes--in schools, restaurants, and environments that encourage a sedentary, calorie-packed way of life--was matched by her inspired approach to finding solutions.

She was next recruited by the City of New York, where she was instrumental in introducing Active Design, an initiative for creating opportunities for healthy living in everyday life that has helped reverse childhood obesity and lengthen life expectancies. Her influence has since spread around the world.
Dr. Lee has always known that health education, public service announcements, and our individual struggles are not enough. The world around us needs to change to support us in taking steps (literally and figuratively) to save our own lives. Working with civic leaders, city planners, and architects, she has been a pioneer in addressing today's leading health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, strokes, cancers, and diabetes.

Fit Cities is a riveting memoir of that work--the story of how Dr. Lee and her many teams of brilliant collaborators uncovered, and set about eradicating, the causes of a pandemic of unhealthy living. And every step of the way, it offers invaluable advice on how we can all help ourselves to live healthier lives.

About the author

Contributor Notes

KAREN K. LEE, MD, MHSc, FRCPC was born in Penang, Malaysia, and moved with her family to Canada at age eight. She studied medicine at the University of Alberta and completed residency training in Public Health and Preventive Medicine at the University of Toronto. Dr. Lee is an Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta. As an advisor, her clients and partners have included the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Australian Heart Foundation, several offices of the World Health Organization, and city, provincial and state governments and organizations around the world.

In 2006, Dr. Lee was recruited by the City of New York City to address its epidemics of obesity and non-communicable disease. In the same year, Dr. Lee, in partnership with the American Institute of Architects, took the lead in organizing the first annual Fit City Conference in New York. With Dr. Lee's help, other Fit City Conferences have been held in the US, Australia, Latin America and the UK.

For more information on Dr. Karen Lee, Active Design and other resources, see

Editorial Reviews

"Dr. Karen Lee is a happy city hero. In Fit Cities, she shows how our cities are making people fat, sick, and vulnerable. And she offers a vision that puts human well-being first by helping people eat, build and move differently. Read this book and join the Fit Cities movement!" —Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City

"While Canadians understand that they should move more, eat better, and connect with their social networks to be healthy, their journey to health has not been supported by the environment in which they live, work and play. In Fit Cities, Dr. Karen Lee, a leading expert in the field of healthy built environments, uses her personal experience and real-world practical examples from New York City and internationally to show us how health gains can be achieved when citizens and many sectors mobilize together to create the kind of communities that we all want to live in. If you think books on public health are boring, give this one a try!" —Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada

"On-the-ground, in-the-neighbourhood knowledge from a health expert who knows how critical places and spaces are to living our best lives." —Charles Branas, Chair of Epidemiology at Columbia University and co-author of Changing Places, The Science and Art of New Urban Planning

"This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know why we aren't making progress in preventing chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Dr. Karen Lee exposes how today's environment is fighting against our efforts to optimally manage chronic diseases and their risk factors like obesity. She weaves intriguing real-life stories of how simple interventions can create health. Care providers and patients alike should take note!" —Dr. Nadia Khan, MD, FRCPC, Professor and Interim Head of General Internal Medicine Division, University of British Columbia; President, Hypertension Canada; co-author, Diabetes Canada Guidelines

"Dr. Lee retraces key developments in our understanding of the importance of our life and work environments in preventing obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers through her work with health departments in the United States, Columbia, Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. Her professional journey reflects the global challenge of modifying the settings we live and work in to reverse lifestyle risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases. From reducing unhealthy food consumption to increasing physical activity and developing holistic approaches to promoting healthy living 'as a default,' her account provides insightful glimpses into the challenges, constraints, solutions, and achievements of public health and policy." —Yoong Kang Zee, CEO, Health Promotion Board, Singapore

"Fit Cities shows us that some of the world's leading health challenges can be successfully addressed by building key partnerships and bringing inspirational professionals together. City builders, all levels of government, and citizens alike can learn from Dr. Lee's experience, advice, and passion for all of us to achieve healthier outcomes in our professional practice, communities, and personal lives.” —Eleanor Mohammed, President, Canadian Institute of Planners (2016–2020) and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, City of Beaumont

"This public health crusader's gripping narrative is essential reading for policymakers, practitioners, and anyone genuinely curious about what actually makes us healthy." —Lawrence Loh, Associate Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region and Adjunct Professor at Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto

Karen Lee's remarkable career has been devoted to discovering what works for the built environment and health, and the tremendous benefits for health (and quality of life, environmental protection, and improved economic prosperity) to be gained. The richness of the examples she provides from around the world adds to the persuasiveness of her argument for a transformation of our communities from the trend of car-domination we have followed for the best part of a century. Fit Cities is an amazing and moving journey." —Dr. Charles Gardner, MD, CCFP, MHSc, FRCPC, Medical Officer of Health and Chief Executive Officer, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, Canada

"Dr. Karen Lee has lived through a revolution in our thinking about the causes of chronic diseases. In Fit Cities she tells the story of this transformation through a compelling mix of storytelling about the people who brought about these changes and a lively explanation of the science that animated them. This book offers a prescription for how we can build a healthier world, shows us why and how it takes so long to do so, but offers enormous optimism that we can, collectively, get there." —Dr. Sandro Galea, Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor, Boston University School of Public Health

"Designing for health is one of the most urgent issues of our time. In this book, Dr. Karen Lee, leading protagonist of the Active Design Movement, charts the course of her own personal vision and journey and not only clearly establishes that human health is influenced by the physical and social environments in which we live and work, but also demonstrates what can be accomplished with true dedication, creative thinking, and above all, cooperation. A must-read for city makers, politicians, urban planners and designers, and for anybody interested in making healthy life choices." —Professor Ben van Berkel, Founder/Principal Architect UNStudio, Amsterdam; Founder UNSense