Development of a Neighborhood Walkability Index for Studying Neighborhood Physical Activity Contexts in Communities across the U.S. over the Past Three Decades

J Urban Health. 2019 Aug;96(4):583-590. doi: 10.1007/s11524-019-00370-4.


To examine how urban form shapes physical activity and health over time, a measure of neighborhood walkability is needed that can be linked to cohort studies with participants living across the United States (U.S.) that have been followed over the past decades. The Built Environment and Health-Neighborhood Walkability Index (BEH-NWI), a measure of neighborhood walkability that can be calculated for communities across the United States between 1990 and 2015, was conceptualized, developed, and tested using data from the New York City Tri-State Area. BEH-NWI measures were created for 1990 and 2010 using historical data on population density, street intersection density, density of rail stops, and density of pedestrian trip generating/supporting establishments. BEH-NWI scores were calculated for 1-km buffers around the 1990 residences of NYU Women's Health Study (NYUWHS) participants and NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Physical Activity and Transit (PAT) survey participants enrolled in 2011. Higher neighborhood BEH-NWI scores were significantly associated with greater self-reported walking per week (+ 0.31 MET-hours/week per unit BEH-NWI, 95% CI 0.23, 0.36) and lower body mass index (- 0.17 BMI units per unit BEH-NWI, 95% - 0.23, - 0.12) among NYUWHS participants. Higher neighborhood BEH-NWI scores were associated with significantly higher accelerometer-measured physical activity among PAT survey participants (39% more minutes of moderate-intensity equivalent activity/week across the interquartile range of BEH-NWI, 95% CI 21%, 60%). The BEH-NWI can be calculated using historical data going back to 1990, and BEH-NWI scores predict BMI, weekly walking, and physical activity in two NYC area datasets.

Keywords: Body mass index; Environment; Geographic information systems; Physical activity; Urban design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Environment Design / statistics & numerical data*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Walking / statistics & numerical data*
  • Walking / trends*