The link between local environment and obesity: a multilevel analysis in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal

Soc Sci Med. 2009 Feb;68(4):601-9. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.11.033. Epub 2009 Jan 8.


Although individual factors have been shown to predict weight gain, contextual determinants have also attracted attention, with some authors stressing the role played by deprivation, urban sprawl, social capital and safety. Recent evidence has implicated environmental factors that facilitate the consumption of excess calories and/or make it more difficult to expend them in routine physical activity. The interrelationships found in some places between physical and social environments (key mediators) and body mass index (BMI), as well as the potential that exists for the development of healthier places, mean that more research is required into the contextual determinants of health. In Portugal, particularly in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (LMA), the effects of physical and social environments on physical activity and BMI have not previously been explored in any detail. This study aims to highlight the associations between residential (physical and social) environment and the risk of weight gain and obesity, over and above individual attributes, assessing which indicators are the best predictors of excess weight in the LMA. The study involved data from 7669 individuals aged 18 and over from 143 neighbourhoods. Self-reported body height and weight were used to define overweight body mass index (BMI> or =25). BMI and individual (socio-demographic and behavioural) characteristics were linked to contextual data and analysed in a multilevel framework. Our findings show that different environmental factors are significantly associated with excess weight and obesity, either directly or indirectly (e.g. health-related behaviours such as eating patterns and physical activity, which are key mediators), after adjustment for individual characteristics. The results suggest that a deeper understanding of these mechanisms is critical if we want to tackle the obesity epidemic, and that policies aimed at weight control and obesity reduction must address people and places in order to bear fruit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • City Planning*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environment Design*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Portugal
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Weight Gain*
  • Young Adult