Background: There is increasing interest in examining the influence of the built environment on physical activity. High-resolution data in a geographic information system is increasingly being used to measure salient aspects of the built environment and studies often use circular or road network buffers to measure land use around an individual's home address. However, little research has examined the extent to which the selection of circular or road network buffers influences the results of analysis. The objective of this study is to examine the influence of land use type (residential, commercial, recreational and park land and institutional land) on 'walking for leisure' and 'walking for errands' using 1 km circular and line-based road network buffers. Data on individual walking patterns is obtained from a survey of 1311 respondents in greater Vancouver and respondent's postal code centroids were used to construct the individual buffers. Logistic regression was used for statistical analysis.
Results: Using line-based road network buffers, increasing proportion of institutional land significantly reduced the odds of 'walking for leisure 15 minutes or less per day' no significant results were found for circular buffers. A greater proportion of residential land significantly increased the odds of 'walking for errands less than 1 hour per week' for line-based road network buffer while no significant results for circular buffers. An increased proportion of commercial land significantly decreased the odds of 'walking for errands less than 1 hour per week' for both circular and line-based road network buffers.
Conclusion: The selection of network or circular buffers has a considerable influence on the results of analysis. Land use characteristics generally show greater associations with walking using line-based road network buffers than circular buffers. These results show that researchers need to carefully consider the most appropriate buffer with which to calculate land use characteristics.