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Walkability and Body Mass Index

Density, Design, and New Diversity Measures

      Background

      Rising rates of overweight and obesity in the U.S. have increased interest in community designs that encourage healthy weight. This study relates neighborhood walkability—density, pedestrian-friendly design, and two novel measures of land-use diversity—to residents' excess weight.

      Methods

      Walkable-environment measures include two established predictors—higher density and pedestrian-friendly design (intersections within 0.25 mile of each address)—and two new census-based, land-use diversity measures: the proportion of residents walking to work and the median age of housing. In 2006, weight, height, age, and address data from 453,927 Salt Lake County driver licenses for persons aged 25–64 years were linked to 2000 Census and GIS street-network information that was analyzed in 2007–2008. Linear regressions of BMI and logistic regressions of overweight and obesity include controls for individual-level age and neighborhood-level racial/ethnic composition, median age of residents, and median family income.

      Results

      Increasing levels of walkability decrease the risks of excess weight. Approximately doubling the proportion of neighborhood residents walking to work decreases an individual's risk of obesity by almost 10%. Adding a decade to the average age of neighborhood housing decreases women's risk of obesity by about 8% and men's by 13%. Population density is unrelated to weight in four of six models, and inconsistently related to weight measures in two models. Pedestrian-friendly street networks are unrelated to BMI but related to lower risks of overweight and obesity in three of four models.

      Conclusions

      Walkability indicators, particularly the two land-use diversity measures, are important predictors of body weight. Driver licenses should be considered as a source of data for community studies of BMI, as they provide extensive coverage at low cost.
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