The relationship between built environments and physical activity: A systematic review

Alva O. Ferdinand, Bisakha Sen, Saurabh Rahurkar, Sally Engler, Nir Menachemi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

156 Scopus citations


Objectives. We conducted a systematic review of the literature examining the relationship between built environments (e.g., parks, trails, sidewalks) and physical activity (PA) or obesity rates. Methods. We performed a 2-step inclusion protocol to identify empirical articles examining any form of built environment and any form of PA (or obesity rate) as the outcome. We extracted data from included abstracts for analysis by using a standard code sheet developed for this study. Results. Of 169 included articles, 89.2% reported beneficial relationships-but virtually all articles utilized simple observational study designs not suited for determining causality. Studies utilizing objective PA measures (e.g., pedometer) were 18% less likely to identify a beneficial relationship. Articles focusing on children in community settings (-14.2%), those examining direct measures of obesity (-6.2%), or those with an academic first author (-3.4%) were less likely to find a beneficial relationship. Conclusions. Policymakers at federal and local levels should encourage more rigorous scientific research to determine whether altered built environments will result in increased PA and decreased obesity rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e7-e13
JournalAmerican journal of public health
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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