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Neighbourhood walkability associated with improved health outcomes

Wang H, Yang Y. Neighbourhood walkability: A review and bibliometric analysis Cities. 2019; 93: 43-61.

Review question

      How does the built environment affect neighbourhood walkability, physical activity and health?

Background

      Neighbourhood walkability is a measure of how appropriate the built environment is for walking. This measure can be used to predict levels of physical activity and active travel by individuals who reside in (or frequent) the area.

      The level of walkability is increasingly valued as walking substantially benefits physical and mental health. A large body of research evidence has shown that walking can reduce rates of obesity, diabetes, and chronic diseases. In addition, a walkable city promotes the balanced development of urban areas and public services, provides people with better places to live, and improves levels of satisfaction regarding neighbourhoods.

      The purpose of this systematic review is to provide a comprehensive overview of the relationship between walkability, physical activity and health, and how the built environment contributes to all three.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a search of one research database for studies published between the years 2008 and 2018.

      Keywords such as the neighbourhood, community, and walkability were used in the search.

      A total of 137 articles were included in this review.

      This work was supported by the Humanities and Social Science Fund of the Ministry of Education of China (19YJCZH154), the Beijing Social Science Fund (17GLB030), the Youth Talents Programme of the Central University of Finance and Economics (QYP1711), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (QL18012).

What the researchers found

      Among the included studies, factors that were most frequently used to measure the walkability of the built environment were residential density (which is the intensity with which land is occupied by either development or population), intersection density (which is the number of intersections in an area), and land use mix (which is the practice of accommodating more than one type of function within a building, a set of buildings, or a specific area). These three characteristics of the built environment have been consistently related to physical activity.

      Studies looking at obesity and walkability revealed that built environment attributes that lead to high walkability are associated with lower levels of obesity.

      Another study found that the presence of sidewalk cafés, the density of landmark buildings, and the density of street trees were associated with a lower body mass index (BMI). Interestingly, the proportion of streets rated as clean was associated with a higher BMI.

Conclusion

      In conclusion, this review revealed a strong relationship between neighbourhood walkability, the built environment and health.

      Review authors note that future research should be conducted on the basis of more accurate and appropriate data to derive more reliable conclusions.




Glossary

Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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