Built environment influences on diet, physical activity, and obesity: a transdisciplinary approach

(Présentement, le texte de cette page est disponible seulement en anglais)


Principal Investigator: Frank, Lawrence (University of British Columbia)

Co-Investigators: Cameron, Roy (University of Waterloo); Fisher, Pat (Region of Waterloo Public Health); Raine, Kim (University of Alberta); Thompson, Mary (University of Waterloo).
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 

Our goal is to study how the built environment impacts physical activity, diet, obesity, incidence of stroke (indirectly via generation of air pollution), and overall health status of the people who live there.

2. The objectives

1) Establish a data collection model that integrates diet, physical activity, and transportation patterns with measurements of the built environment, obesity and health;
2) Use this model to inform the policy development and transportation and land use planning of a regional municipality;
3) Evaluate the impact of dietary behaviour (energy in) versus physical activity (energy out) in explaining obesity across a range of income, age, and walkability level;
4) Evaluate the relative amount of harmful air pollutants generated from personal travel by people living in different levels of walkability.

3. The approach

1) Map the level of walkability of neighbourhoods in the Waterloo region
We will take each postal code and create a 1 km circle from that place to rate the walkability of the neighbourhood. We will then map out the differences in the walkability across the region.
2) Look at how the walkability of a neighbourhood impacts physical activity, diet, obesity, air pollution and vehicle emissions, and overall health of people who liver there
We will use the information from stage 1 to select people to be included in this study. We will select participants from areas with different levels of walkability, ask them to track where they travel and what they do when they get there for two days. 
3) Implement our findings in the Waterloo region and share what we have learned with others across Canada.

4. The unique factors

Our project is the first to combine diet and physical activity in understanding how the built environment impacts obesity.  Previous research has only looked at how physical activity is related to obesity. But we know that what we eat plays a big role in levels of obesity and quality of our health. Our unique research team will look at how the built environment is related to diet, physical activity, obesity and health.
One criticism of past research is that people who want to be physically active choose to live in areas that are more walkable while people who want to drive live in places where they have to drive. We will address this question by asking participants to tell us about the type of neighbourhood they would like to live in. We will ask them to make choices about things like having a larger lot for their house or being closer to shops and servides. This will allow us to control for neighbourhood preferences.
Most projects are led by academic researchers who will present their findings when the project is completed. In our project, the research team is working hand in hand with a municipal government to set up a data collection system that directly informs policy development and decisions about where to invest infrastructure money in order to improve the health of citizens. This data collection system willl provide a model that can be used by others across Canada.

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

We structure the project so that findings will be directly implemented by policy makers. Using objective land use data, we measure the existing design of the built environment in a format that will allow the policy makers to model the impact of different policies and projects and to monitor the ongoing changes to the built environment. We will collect information on physical activity, diet, obesity, well-being and health from 2,400 households. We will also collect, in the same survey, information on where people would like to live, their age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. Our experienced research team has set up a plan to analyze the data to understand the link between the built environment and obesity and health.
Lastly, our project is a new and unique partnership between experts in planning, nutrition, knowledge exchange and policy. This partnership will expand the research capacity in Canada and incorporate the training of  researchers and policy makers in this new and exciting area of research.