Background: Suburban development patterns may impede physical activity (PA) and mobility and affect healthy aging. This paper investigates the relationships between neighborhood design and walking, driving, PA, and obesity in adults over age 65 years.
Methods: Data from the SMARTRAQ (Atlanta region) survey provided measures of PA, BMI, SES, and travel patterns. Neighborhood design was measured using a walkability index (residential density, street connectivity, retail density, and land use mix). Chi square and regression was used to evaluate relationships.
Results: Increased walkability was related with more walking (OR 2.02), less time spent traveling in a car (OR .53), and lower odds of being overweight (OR .68). Those with 1 or no cars were more likely to walk (OR 2.9) and spend less time in cars (OR .53); but also less likely to get recommended levels of PA (OR .55). Visiting a fast food outlet was associated with increased odds of obesity (OR 1.81).
Conclusions: Policies are needed to bring older Americans closer to shops and services and healthy food outlets as a means of encouraging regular walking and healthy body weight. Incentives to encourage neighborhood grocery stores and affordable housing in central areas along with regulatory reform through zoning can encourage PA and healthy body weight in the elderly.