‘Walkable’ neighborhoods lower risk for obesity, diabetes

Adults living in highly “walkable” communities are 31% less likely to have overweight or obesity vs. adults who reside in car-dependent neighborhoods, according to study findings presented at the World Diabetes Congress.

“We found that living in walkable areas was associated with significantly lower odds of being obese or overweight,” Salman Klar, MPH, of the Population Health Observatory, Fraser Health Authority in British Columbia, Canada, said in a press release. “Risk for obesity and diabetes are increasingly attributed to environmental factors; however, limited attention has been paid to the impact of physical features of a neighborhood.”

Klar and colleagues analyzed data from 22,499 Vancouver residents who completed the My Health My Community Survey between June 2013 and July 2014. The predominantly Web-based survey included questions on health status, behaviors, height, weight, access to care and built environment. Researchers calculated BMI and assessed the association between BMI and neighborhood walkability using Walk Score data, a proprietary measure developed by analyzing the distance from a point to nearby amenities, such as grocery stores and parks. Walk scores range from 0 to 100; amenities within 400 m of a location are given full points.

Researchers developed four walkability categories: “walker’s paradise” (90-100); “very walkable” (70-89); “somewhat walkable” (50-69) and “car dependent” (0-49).

Within the cohort, 22.2% had obesity; 35.4% were overweight. Researchers found a higher proportion of residents with overweight or obesity in car-dependent areas (OR = 1) vs. adults living in a walker’s paradise (OR = 0.69; 95% CI, 0.61-0.78). Researchers did not find a significant association between BMI and somewhat walkable areas when compared with car-dependent areas.

“Walkable neighborhoods play an important role in preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes by encouraging active lifestyles and increasing accessibility to services and amenities,” Jat Sandhu, PhD, regional director of public health surveillance for Vancouver Coastal Health, said in a press release. “Municipal planners should view access to walkable neighborhoods as physical activity resources for the community.”

The researchers noted that the Walk Score data do not measure the quality of the amenities or access, or the quality of built features, such as sidewalk availability. by Regina Schaffer


Klar S. Poster #0908-P. Presented at: World Diabetes Congress; Nov. 30-Dec. 4, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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