Background: Obesity is a major health problem in the United States and around the world. To date, relationships between obesity and aspects of the built environment have not been evaluated empirically at the individual level.
Objective: To evaluate the relationship between the built environment around each participant's place of residence and self-reported travel patterns (walking and time in a car), body mass index (BMI), and obesity for specific gender and ethnicity classifications.
Methods: Body Mass Index, minutes spent in a car, kilometers walked, age, income, educational attainment, and gender were derived through a travel survey of 10,878 participants in the Atlanta, Georgia region. Objective measures of land use mix, net residential density, and street connectivity were developed within a 1-kilometer network distance of each participant's place of residence. A cross-sectional design was used to associate urban form measures with obesity, BMI, and transportation-related activity when adjusting for sociodemographic covariates. Discrete analyses were conducted across gender and ethnicity. The data were collected between 2000 and 2002 and analysis was conducted in 2004.
Results: Land-use mix had the strongest association with obesity (BMI >/= 30 kg/m(2)), with each quartile increase being associated with a 12.2% reduction in the likelihood of obesity across gender and ethnicity. Each additional hour spent in a car per day was associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity. Conversely, each additional kilometer walked per day was associated with a 4.8% reduction in the likelihood of obesity. As a continuous measure, BMI was significantly associated with urban form for white cohorts. Relationships among urban form, walk distance, and time in a car were stronger among white than black cohorts.
Conclusions: Measures of the built environment and travel patterns are important predictors of obesity across gender and ethnicity, yet relationships among the built environment, travel patterns, and weight may vary across gender and ethnicity. Strategies to increase land-use mix and distance walked while reducing time in a car can be effective as health interventions.