Understanding environmental influences on nutrition and physical activity behaviors: where should we look and what should we count?

Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2006 Sep 26;3:33. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-3-33.


Research interest in the influence of environmental factors on nutrition and physical activity behaviors has surged internationally in recent years. This is evident from a rapidly expanding literature and facilitated by advances in methodological and analytical approaches to assessing multiple levels of influence on health behaviors. However, a number of conceptual challenges complicate research endeavours in this field. The purpose of this paper is to provide a 'state of the science' overview of evidence regarding environmental influences on nutrition and physical activity behaviors. We focus particularly on a number of key conceptual and methodological issues, including: a consideration of how the environment is defined; the selection and operationalization of environmental exposures; and the importance of integrating existing understanding of individual influences on behavior with the emerging data on the role of the environment. We draw on examples from the published literature including our own research studies to illustrate these issues. We conclude by proposing a research agenda to progress understanding of the influences of the environment on population nutrition and physical activity behaviors.

Publication types

  • Editorial