Do enhancements to the urban built environment improve physical activity levels among socially disadvantaged populations?

Int J Equity Health. 2011 Jul 18;10:28. doi: 10.1186/1475-9276-10-28.


Background: There is growing recognition that the urban built environment influences physical activity at the population level, although the effects on disadvantaged groups are less well understood. Using the examples of open/green space and street connectivity, this paper explores whether enhancements to the built environment have potential for addressing physical activity-related health inequalities among Māori, Pacific and low income communities in New Zealand.

Method: A high-level review of the international literature relating open space and street connectivity to physical activity and/or related health outcomes at a population level was completed. Consideration was given to whether these features of the built environment have a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged populations.

Results: Findings from international studies suggest that open space and street connectivity have a beneficial effect on physical activity. Enhancing the built environment may be particularly advantageous for improving physical activity levels among disadvantaged populations.

Conclusion: It is likely that open space and street connectivity have a positive effect on physical activity behaviour; however due to the cross-sectional nature of existing research and the paucity of research among disadvantaged populations definitive conclusions about the effect in these populations cannot be made. Further research is required (e.g. natural experiments or quasi experimental research designs) to determine the effect of changing the environment on physical activity and obesity.