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Neighbourhood-Level Urban Form, Socioeconomic Status, and Obesity

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Results from “Interactions between Neighbourhood Urban Form and Socioeconomic Status and their associations with anthropometric Measurements in Canadian Adults”.

McCormack, G.R., Friedenreich, C., McLaren, L., Potestio, M., Sandalack, B., & Csizmadi, I.


Influence of environment on weight-related behaviours

Increasing population levels of obesity are creating a burden on public health and the Canadian healthcare system (1). Population health status can be affected by social and economic factors, notably, those of a lower socioeconomic status tend to experience higher rates of obesity than those of a higher socioeconomic status. The neighbourhood environment may affect the behaviours that contribute to obesity, such as lack of physical activity and a poor diet. Neighbourhood features can affect physical activity levels through street design by either making it easier or more difficult to walk or bike to destinations. Similarly, neighbourhood features can also have an affect on diet by influencing the accessibility of food options, for example, lower socioeconomic status neighbourhoods tend to have a greater access to fast food restaurants and less access to healthy food (2,3). A cross sectional study was conducted to assess the relationship between a person’s SES and neighbourhood design as well as how these factors influence weight status. Self-reported measurements of waist circumference (WC) waist to hip ratio (WHR), and body mass index (BMI), were used to assess weight status.

Impact of neighbourhood design and socioeconomic status on anthropometric measurements

The findings from this study show a relationship between neighbourhood design (grid-like, warped grid, and curvilinear) and neighbourhood-level SES to trends in weight status of residents. Participants residing in more disadvantaged SES neighbourhoods had the highest average WC and BMI, while advantaged and somewhat advantaged populations recorded the lowest BMI. Curvilinear street designs were also associated with significantly higher WC, while BMI was also higher among both warped grid and curvilinear neighbourhood residents. Grid-like neighbourhood designs were associated with the lowest weight status. Overall, average waist circumference was highest for residents of disadvantaged, curvilinear neighbourhoods and lowest in advantage, grid neighbourhoods. Based on these findings, policies that target improving the affordability of neighbourhoods that support healthier weight-related behaviours for low SES populations may aid in lowering weight status and the prevalence of obesity among Canadians.

Suggested Citation: McCormack GR, Friedenreich C, McLaren L, Potestio ML, Sandalack B, & Csizmadi I. "Interactions between Neighbourhood Urban Form and Socioeconomic Status and Their Associations with Anthropometric Measurements in Canadian Adults." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 2017, Article ID 5042614, 10 pages, 2017.

Written by: Emma Chong, BKin; Posted August 22, 2019

  1. F. X. Pi-Sunyer, “Medical complications of obesity in adults,” in Eating Disorders And Obesity, C. G. Fairburn and K. D.Brownell, Eds., pp. 467– 472, The Guilford Press, New York, NY, USA, 2 edition, 2002.

  2. A. Martin, D. Ogilvie, and M. Suhrcke, “Evaluating causal relationships between urban built environment characteristics and obesity: A methodological review of observational studies,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, vol. 11, no. 1, article no. 142, 2014.

  3. T. M. Powell-Wiley, R. Cooper-McCann, C. Ayers et al., “Change in Neighborhood Socioeconomic Status and Weight Gain: Dallas Heart Study,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 72–79, 2015.

  4. E. A. Spencer, A. W. Roddam, and T. J. Key, “Accuracy of self reported waist and hip measurements in 4492 EPIC-Oxford participants,” Public Health Nutrition, vol. 7, no. 6, pp. 723–727, 2004.


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