Background: Understanding the relationship between urban design and physical activity is a high priority. Different representations of land use diversity may impact the association between neighbourhood design and specific walking behaviours. This study examined different entropy based computations of land use mix (LUM) used in the development of walkability indices (WIs) and their association with walking behaviour.
Methods: Participants in the RESIDential Environments project (RESIDE) self-reported mins/week of recreational, transport and total walking using the Neighbourhood Physical Activity Questionnaire (n = 1798). Land use categories were incrementally added to test five different LUM models to identify the strongest associations with recreational, transport and total walking. Logistic regression was used to analyse associations between WIs and walking behaviour using three cut points: any (> 0 mins), ≥ 60 mins and ≥ 150 mins walking/week.
Results: Participants in high (vs. low) walkable neighbourhoods reported up to almost twice the amount of walking, irrespective of the LUM measure used. However, different computations of LUM were found to be relevant for different types and amounts of walking (i.e., > 0, ≥ 60 or ≥ 150 mins/week). Transport walking (≥ 60 mins/week) had the strongest and most significant association (OR = 2.24; 95% CI:1.58-3.18) with the WI when the LUM included 'residential', 'retail', 'office', 'health, welfare and community', and 'entertainment, culture and recreation'. However, any (> 0 mins/week) recreational walking was more strongly associated with the WI (OR = 1.36; 95% CI:1.04-1.78) when land use categories included 'public open space', 'sporting infrastructure' and 'primary and rural' land uses. The observed associations were generally stronger for ≥ 60 mins/week compared with > 0 mins/week of transport walking and total walking but this relationship was not seen for recreational walking.
Conclusions: Varying the combination of land uses in the LUM calculation of WIs affects the strength of relationships with different types (and amounts) of walking. Future research should examine the relationship between walkability and specific types and different amounts of walking. Our results provide an important first step towards developing a context-specific WI that is associated with recreational walking. Inherent problems with administrative data and the use of entropy formulas for the calculation of LUM highlight the need to explore alternative or complimentary measures of the environment.