How the built environment affects physical activity: views from urban planning

Am J Prev Med. 2002 Aug;23(2 Suppl):64-73. doi: 10.1016/s0749-3797(02)00475-0.


The link between the built environment and human behavior has long been of interest to the field of urban planning, but direct assessments of the links between the built environment and physical activity as it influences personal health are still rare in the field. Yet the concepts, theories, and methods used by urban planners provide a foundation for an emerging body of research on the relationship between the built environment and physical activity. Recent research efforts in urban planning have focused on the idea that land use and design policies can be used to increase transit use as well as walking and bicycling. The development of appropriate measures for the built environment and for travel behavior is an essential element of this research. The link between the built environment and travel behavior is then made using theoretical frameworks borrowed from economics, and in particular, the concept of travel as a derived demand. The available evidence lends itself to the argument that a combination of urban design, land use patterns, and transportation systems that promotes walking and bicycling will help create active, healthier, and more livable communities. To provide more conclusive evidence, however, researchers must address the following issues: An alternative to the derived-demand framework must be developed for walking, measures of the built environment must be refined, and more-complete data on walking must be developed. In addition, detailed data on the built environment must be spatially matched to detailed data on travel behavior.

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior
  • City Planning
  • Environment Design*
  • Exercise*
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Transportation
  • Travel
  • Urbanization*