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Neighbourhood Form and Walking in Canada

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Results from “A systematized literature review on the associations between neighbourhood built characteristics and walking among Canadian adults”.

Farkas, B., Wagner, D.J., Nettel-Aguirre, A., Friedenreich, C., & McCormack, G.R.


Low physical activity levels contribute to chronic disease risk

Walking provides many health benefits and can reduce the risk of chronic diseases which currently place an economic burden on Canada’s health care system (1). Unfortunately, Canadians do not participate in enough physical activity to experience its health benefits (2). Modifying neighbourhood built characteristics may provide a solution to this issue. Land use mix, destination mix and proximity, residential or population density, street and pedestrian connectivity have been associated with physical activity levels (3). One solution to reducing the economic burden of chronic diseases in Canada is to develop neighbourhoods that create more opportunities to be physically active.

The association between neighbourhood built characteristics and walking

Most literature reviews to date have combined findings from multiple geographical contexts, specifically Australia, European countries, and the United States, and may not be generalizable to a specific location. More country-specific evidence is needed to better inform local urban policy and practice. Thus, a systematized literature review of Canadian quantitative studies was completed to gain a better understanding of the associations between the objectively measured built environment and walking for different purposes among Canadian adults.

Results from a systematized literature review of Canadian evidence on the association between the built environment and walking for different purposes among Canadian adults.

The review findings show that overall walkability (e.g. Walk Score) and land use (e.g. having a mix of destinations) were consistently associated with walking for transportation, while proximity to destinations was associated with walking for any purpose in Canada. The relationship between recreational walking and the built environment was studied less frequently than transportation walking or walking for any purpose and the built environment. Future research should focus on identifying the built characteristics that are supportive for recreation versus transportation walking, as well as whether different groups of people may be affected uniquely by certain components of the built environment.

A population level solution to chronic disease risk

Improving neighbourhood walkability, land use and proximity to destinations may support higher levels of transportation walking, and in turn contribute to better health outcomes among Canadian adults. These findings present an opportunity for urban planning and public health professionals as active transportation, including walking, can reduce overweight/obesity (4), as well as the prevalence of adults with type 2 diabetes (5), and reduce cardiovascular risk (6).

Suggested Citation: Farkas B, Wagner DJ, Nettel-Aguirre A, Friedenreich C, McCormack GR. A systematized literature review on the associations between neighbourhood built characteristics and walking among Canadian adults. Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada. 2019;39(1):1-14.

Written by Dalia Ghoneim, MPH, CSEP-CEP; Posted 29/03/2019.


(1) Kreuger H TD, Krueger J, Ready AE. The economic benefits of risk factor reduction in Canada: tobacco smoking, excess weight and physical inactivity. Can J Public Health. 2014;105(1):e69-78.

(2) Colley RC, Garriguet D, Janssen I, Craig CL, Clarke J, Tremblay MS. Physical activity of Canadian adults: accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Health Rep. 2011;22(1):7-14.

(3) McCromack GR, Shiell A. In search of causality: a systematic review of the relationship between the built environment and physical activity among adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2011;8(1):125.

(4) Bassett DR, Jr., Pucher J, Buehler R, Thompson DL, Crouter SE. Walking, cycling, and obesity rates in Europe, North America, and Australia. J Phys Act Health. 2008;5(6):795-814.

(5) Pucher J, Buehler R, Bassett DR, Dannenberg AL. Wlaking and cycling to health: a comparative analysis of city, state, and international data. Am J Public Health. 2010

(6) Hamer M, Chida Y. Active commuting and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analytic review. Prev Med. 2008;46(1):9-13.


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