Karen K. Lee, MD, MHSc is principal and founder of Dr. Karen Lee Health + Built Environment + Social Determinants Consulting, based in New York City and New Jersey. Lee has worked to improve environmental factors for health, particularly the current epidemics of physical inactivity and obesity and related chronic diseases such as heart disease and strokes, diabetes and some of the most common and deadly cancers, for the past 17 years. Her current team assists multiple jurisdictions and organizations globally on addressing these critical epidemics of today through improving the physical and social environments of communities including strategic development, technical assistance on process/policy/practice ranging from addressing transport planning to economic policies to zoning and building codes and incentives, to positive political and public engagement using health and community wellbeing as the driver. Many of the interventions that improve community environments for health also produce co-benefits for the economy, the environment, accessibility and equity.
She previously worked with the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, within the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, including providing technical assistance nationwide on these issues. Her team’s work at the CDC received a U.S. Public Health Service Commendation Award for Outstanding Achievement. She was also the inaugural director of the Built Environment and Active Design Program that she started at the New York City Health Department during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, leading work across 12 New York City departments, and private and community sector partners to create and implement initiatives such as the annual Fit City conferences, the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) initiative to expand supermarkets for healthy food access and job creation in underserved neighborhoods, the multiple-award-winning Active Design Guidelines, and Active Design Guideline supplements on safety, sidewalk design, and affordable housing, resources used by professionals like urban planners in over 80 countries globally. Lee has worked with the U.S. Green Buildings Council to create a new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system Pilot Credit called “Design for Active Occupants”, now registered for use and incentivizing health-promoting strategies in over 250 development projects.
Lee and her team have worked to assist government, non-government and private-sector organizations in over 40 cities globally as well as multiple World Health Organization offices and the United Nations. She is also an adjunct professor with the Schools of Public Health at the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta in Canada, and teaches a specialized intensive one-week course on Designing Healthy Cities for Health and Other Co-Benefits at Columbia University.