A systematic review of built environment factors related to physical activity and obesity risk: implications for smart growth urban planning

Obes Rev. 2011 May;12(5):e173-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2010.00826.x. Epub 2011 Feb 23.


Smart growth is an approach to urban planning that provides a framework for making community development decisions. Despite its growing use, it is not known whether smart growth can impact physical activity. This review utilizes existing built environment research on factors that have been used in smart growth planning to determine whether they are associated with physical activity or body mass. Searching the MEDLINE, Psycinfo and Web-of-Knowledge databases, 204 articles were identified for descriptive review, and 44 for a more in-depth review of studies that evaluated four or more smart growth planning principles. Five smart growth factors (diverse housing types, mixed land use, housing density, compact development patterns and levels of open space) were associated with increased levels of physical activity, primarily walking. Associations with other forms of physical activity were less common. Results varied by gender and method of environmental assessment. Body mass was largely unaffected. This review suggests that several features of the built environment associated with smart growth planning may promote important forms of physical activity. Future smart growth community planning could focus more directly on health, and future research should explore whether combinations or a critical mass of smart growth features is associated with better population health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • City Planning*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Environment*
  • Urban Population
  • Walking / physiology