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Neighbourhood Walkability, Socioeconomic Status and Obesity

Updated: Jun 23

Results from “The Independent Associations between Walk Score® and Neighbourhood Socioeconomic Status, Waist Circumference, Waist-To-Hip Ratio and Body Mass Index Among Urban Adults”.

McCormack, G.R., Blackstaffe, A., Nettel-Aguirre, A., Csizmadi, I., Sandalack, B., Uribe, F.A., Rayes, A., Friedenreich, C., & Potestio, M.L.

The environmental risk for obesity

Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic diseases and has been related to an increased burden on the health care system (1). Although obesity is related to a person’s choice to be physically active and consume a healthy diet, their neighbourhood built environment can affect their ability to be successful in these choices. Neighbourhood built environments that support higher levels of physical activity are characterized by a mix of land uses and destinations, connected pedestrian networks, high residential density, and pedestrian-friendly streets and infrastructure (2). A person’s weight status may also be exacerbated by their socioeconomic status (3) as disadvantaged neighbourhoods are less supportive of physical activity than advantaged neighbourhoods due to fewer sidewalks, poorer sidewalk conditions, more trash, graffiti, neglected properties, fewer recreational facilities, as well as more unhealthy food destinations and reduced access to healthy food destinations (4-6).

A recent study estimated the associations between neighbourhood walkability (Walk Score®), waist circumference (WC), waist-to-hip ratio (W-H) ratio, and BMI among urban Canadian adults. Walk Score® is a commonly used measure of neighbourhood walkability and is based on the estimated distance from households to commonly used amenities (grocery stores, restaurants, shopping, coffee shops, banks, parks, schools, bookstores, and entertainment). 12 established Calgary neighbourhoods (built prior to the early 1980s) were sampled based on block pattern (grid, warped grid, and curvilinear) and socioeconomic status (SES).


Obesity risk, walkability, and socioeconomic status

Findings from this study suggest that residents of neighbourhoods with higher walkability had a lower risk of having an unhealthy WC. Specifically, a one-unit increase in Walk Score® was related to a 1% reduction in likelihood of being high risk based on WC. Participants residing in a low SES neighbourhood were also more likely to be identified as high risk for obesity. Based on these findings, policies that encourage a mix of destinations within walking distance to homes could promote physical activity and healthy diets and indirectly decrease overweight and obesity. Neighbourhood level socioeconomic status should also be considered in developing and implementing policy and interventions for improving weight status.


Suggested Citation: McCormack GR, Blackstaffe A, Nettel-Aguirre A, Csizmadi I, Sandalack B, Uribe FA, Rayes A, Friedenreich C, Potestio ML. The independent associations between Walk Score® and neighbourhood socioeconomic status, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index among urban adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2018;15(6):1226. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15061226


Written by Dalia Ghoneim, MPH, CSEP-CEP; Posted on 12/07/2019.

(1) Hojgaard B, Gryd-Hansen D, Olsen KR, Sogaard J, Sorensen TI. Waist circumference and body mass index as predictors of health care costs. PLoS ONE. 2008;3(7):e2619.

(2) Ferdinand AO, Sen B, Rahurkar S, Engler S, Menachemi N. The relationship between built environments and physical activity: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health. 2012;102(10):e7-e13.

(3) Van Lenthe FJ, Mackenbach JP. Neighbourhood deprivation and overweight: The globe study. International Journal of Obesity. 2002;26(2):234-240.

(4) Popkin BM, Duffey K, Gordon-Larsen P. Environmental influences on food choice, physical activity and energy balance. Physiology and Behaviour. 2005;86(5):603-13.

(5) Kelly CM, Schootman M, Baker EA, Barnidge EK, Lemes A. The association of sidewalk walkability and physical disorder with area-level race and poverty. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2007;61(11):978-983.

(6) Powell LM, Slater S, Chaloupka FJ, Harper D. Availability of physical activity-related facilities and neighborhood demographic and socioeconomic characteristics: A national study. American Journal of Public Health. 2006;96(9):1676-80.

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