Background: The prevalence of adult obesity is escalating in most wealthy and middle income countries. Due to the magnitude of this issue, research and interventions at the individual-level abound. However, the limited success and high costs of such interventions has led to a growing recognition of the potential role of environmental factors in reducing obesity and promoting physical activity and healthy diets.
Methods: This study utilised individual-level data from the 2006/7 New Zealand Health Survey on obesity, physical activity, diet and socio-economic variables linked to geographic information from other sources on potentially aetiologically-relevant environmental factors, based on the respondent's residential address. We fitted logistic regression models for eight binary measures of weight or weight-related behaviours: 1) overweight; 2) obesity; 3) overweight + obesity; 4) active at least 30 minutes a day for 5+ days per week; 5) active <30 minutes per week; 6) walk 150 minutes + per week; 7) walk <30 minutes per week; and 8) consumption of 5+ fruits and vegetables per day. We included a range of independent environmental characteristics of interest in separate models.
Results: We found that increased neighbourhood deprivation and decreased access to neighbourhood greenspace were both significantly associated with increased odds of overweight and/or obesity. The results for weight-related behaviours indicate that meeting the recommended level of physical activity per week was associated with urban/rural status, with higher activity in the more rural areas and a surprising tendency for less activity among those living in areas with higher levels of active travel to work. Increased access to greenspace was associated with high levels of walking, while decreased access to greenspace was associated with low levels of walking. There was also a significant trend for low levels of walking to be positively associated with neighbourhood deprivation. Results for adequate fruit and vegetable consumption show a significant urban/rural gradient, with more people meeting recommended levels in the more rural compared to more urban areas.
Conclusion: Similar to findings from other international studies, these results highlight greenspace as an amenable environmental factor associated with obesity/overweight and also indicate the potential benefit of targeted health promotion in both urban and deprived areas in New Zealand.