Walkability and urban built environments-a systematic review of health impact assessments (HIA)

BMC Public Health. 2023 Mar 17;23(1):518. doi: 10.1186/s12889-023-15394-4.


Background: Urban environments are important determinants of human health. The term walkability summarizes features of the urban built environment that promote walking and other types of physical activity. While the beneficial effects of active and public transport have been well established, the health impact of other features of walkability are less well documented.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of health impact assessments (HIAs) of walkability. Studies were identified through PUBMED and Science Direct, from two German websites related to urban health and reference tracking. Finally, 40 studies were included in the present review. We applied qualitative thematic analysis to summarize the major results from these studies.

Results: Most of the HIAs (n = 31) reported the improvement of health or health behaviour resulting from an investigated project or policy. However, three HIAs reported a lack of improvement or even a decrease of health status. In parallel, 13 HIAs reported a gain in economic value, whereas one reported a lack or loss of economic effects. Moreover, three HIAs reported on social effects and six HIAs gave additional recommendations for policies or the implementation of projects or HIAs.

Conclusions: Most HIAs investigate the impact of increasing active or public transport. Other features of walkability are less well studied. With few exceptions, HIAs document beneficial impacts of improving walkability on a variety of health outcomes, including reductions of mortality and non-communicable diseases.

Keywords: Built environment; Health impact assessment; Walkability.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Built Environment
  • Exercise
  • Health Impact Assessment* / methods
  • Humans
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Urban Health*
  • Walking