Background: Understanding which physical environmental factors affect adult obesity, and how best to influence them, is important for public health and urban planning. Previous attempts to summarise the literature have not systematically assessed the methodological quality of included studies, or accounted for environmental differences between continents or the ways in which environmental characteristics were measured.
Methods: We have conducted an updated review of the scientific literature on associations of physical environmental factors with adult weight status, stratified by continent and mode of measurement, accompanied by a detailed risk-of-bias assessment. Five databases were systematically searched for studies published between 1995 and 2013.
Results: Two factors, urban sprawl and land use mix, were found consistently associated with weight status, although only in North America.
Conclusions: With the exception of urban sprawl and land use mix in the US the results of the current review confirm that the available research does not allow robust identification of ways in which that physical environment influences adult weight status, even after taking into account methodological quality.