A Moving Study: Physical Activity and Diet before and after Residential Relocation

Principal Investigators: 

Frank, Lawrence and Brauer, Michael (University of British Columbia)


Murray, Grant (Concord Pacific); Thompson, Mary (University of Waterloo); Black, Jennifer (UBC); Brownson, Ross (Washington University); Craig, Cora Lynn (Canada Fitness & Lifestyles Res. Inst.); Millar, John (Public Health Services Authority); Davies, Hugh (UBC) 

1. The Health Problem/Issue  

Population health appears to be linked with the physical design and layout of our neighbourhoods and communities. People tend to walk more and be physically active when shops and services are nearby. We are more likely to be overweight if we need to drive everywhere because places are spread out or transit is difficult to get to. Still, we cannot say for sure whether the design of neighbourhoods is an underlying cause of these patterns. It is possible that factors like our attitudes and preferences are more important. Better experiments are needed to control and isolate these effects.  

2. The Objectives 

This study will investigate how different neighbourhood design attributes influence health over time. We will compare the health of people before and after they move to a new neighbourhood. Our focus is on diet, physical activity levels, body weight, and exposure to air and noise pollution. We will test how relationships vary across different age groups, ethnicities and income levels.

3. The Approach 

This research will take place in Metro Vancouver. We will work with a local development company to locate and recruit people who will be moving to central, highly walkable areas. Self-reported and observed health and travel patterns will be collected before and after people change neighbourhoods. Our team will map the local design features of each person's old and new neighbourhoods. Characteristics like density, street patterns, transit service and mix of land uses will be included. Models will be developed to measure the importance of these features in influencing health outcomes across different populations. We will control for attitudes and preferences related to where people want to live and get around.

4. The Unique Factors 

Our "before-and-after" approach is a true natural experiment. It will be the first of its kind and scale in Canada. Previous work has really only explored relationships between health and neighbourhood design at one point in time. These designs do not prove what causes variations in travel and health patterns.

5. How the project is relevant to the objectives of the initiative 

This study satisfies a need for intervention-based research. Findings will advance the science and our understanding of how neighbourhood layout and design influence health outcomes across different populations. Our work will help build more "horizontal" partnerships. Our team is made up of researchers in the fields of public health, nutrition, and urban planning. We are partnered with a local development company and provincial health services to both complete this project and distribute findings to homebuyers, policymakers and developers.”