Recent environmental changes play a role in the dramatic increase in the prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factors (CMRFs) such as obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemias and the metabolic syndrome in industrialized countries. Therefore, identifying environmental characteristics that are associated with risk factors is critical to develop more effective public health interventions. We conducted a systematic review of the literature investigating relationships between characteristics of geographic life environments and CMRFs (131 articles). Most studies were published after 2006, relied on cross-sectional designs, and examined whether sociodemographic and physical environmental characteristics, and more recently service environment characteristics, were associated with obesity or, to a lesser extent, hypertension. Only 14 longitudinal studies were retrieved; diabetes, dyslipidemias and the metabolic syndrome were rarely analysed; and aspects of social interactions in the neighbourhood were critically underinvestigated. Environmental characteristics that were consistently associated with either obesity or hypertension include low area socioeconomic position; low urbanization degree; low street intersection, service availability and residential density; high noise pollution; low accessibility to supermarkets and high density of convenience stores; and low social cohesion. Intermediate mechanisms between environmental characteristics and CMRFs have received little attention. We propose a research agenda based on the assessment of underinvestigated areas of research and methodological limitations of current literature.
© 2010 The Authors. obesity reviews © 2010 International Association for the Study of Obesity.