A longitudinal examination of the relationship between the built environment, physical activity, and social factors within the Capital Health Region of Alberta


Principal Investigator: Berry, Tanya R. (University of Alberta)

Co-Investigators: Blanchard, Christopher (Dalhousie University); Edwards, Joy (Capital Health); Nykiforuk, Candace (University of Alberta); Predy, Gerald (Capital Health); Spence, John C. (University of Alberta).

This project is funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (HSFC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

1. The research question 

How we build our cities may play a role in how obese we are. Things like how active we are and if we have easy access to inexpensive, healthy food are probably part of the relationship but most of the evidence comes from surveys done at one time only. We need research that follows people over time so that we can find out for sure what link might exist. It is also important that we work with people like urban planners who may use this information. That way we can collect the most useful information possible. Then, the planners have a better chance of making a change when they talk to government officials. 

2. The objectives

We will look at the link between how easy it is for people to walk in city neighbourhoods, to get healthy food, and how obese people are. We will work with end users who actually have a say in how these places are built to find out what information they need. That way, the research is more likely to have an influence. 
We will measure how cities are built in two ways:
1) The number and locations of walking trails and grocery stores in neighbourhoods;
2) How easy it is to walk around the city neighbourhoods. Things to think about include sidewalks and safety. 

3. The approach

1) Ask urban planners what information would be most useful in making our city healthier;
2) Ask people how easy it is to walk near their homes and how much exercise they do; compare the answers to those  given in 2002;
3) Survey people on how easy it is to get inexpensive, healthy food near where they live - include other questions in the survey to get a more complete picture of what is happening;
4) Ask people in high and low income neighbourhoods if they exercise and shop for groceries near home and why or why not.

4. The unique factors

1) The follow-up question to the people who answered our question in 2002;
2) The collaboration between researchers and end users - the researchers on our team are working closely with public health workers and a government program manager in charge of helping a city grow more healthy.
5. How the project is relevant to the objectives of the initiative
We will look at several factors that can have an influence on people gaining weight. One is how active people are; the other is how easy it is for people to get inexpensive, healthy food. Both of these factors can be influenced by how urban areas are built.