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How Neighbourhoods Affect Physical Activity

Regular readers will appreciate how environmental determinants can affect complex behaviours such as physical activity and eating behaviours.

New data on this topic is presented by Canadian Obesity Network Bootcamper Stephanie Prince and colleagues from the University of Ottawa in a paper just published in OBESITY.

The paper examines in considerable detail the relationships between variables from built and social environments and physical activity with excess weight across 86 Ottawa neighborhoods.

Individual-level data including self-reported leisure-time PA and other variables were analysed in a sample of 4,727 adults from four combined cycles (years 2001/03/05/07) of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) together with data on neighbourhood characteristics from the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS).

For women greater park area was associated with increased odds of leisure time physical activity as well as overweight/obesity. Also, greater neighborhood density of convenience stores and fast food outlets were associated with increased odds of females being overweight/obese.

Higher crime rates were associated with greater odds of leisure time physical activity in males, and lower odds of both male and female overweight/obesity.

Incidentally, this being Canada, it was perhaps not surprising that season was significantly associated with physical activity in men and women with the odds of leisure time physical activity in winter being half that of summer.

Based on these findings, the authors conclude that the impact of park area, crime rates, and neighborhood food outlets may has different effects on activity levels as well as the prevalence of overweight/obesity in men and women.

This may certainly be consistent with the notion that men and women interact differently with their neighbourhoods both in terms of activity as well as food choices.

Toronto, Ontario

ResearchBlogging.orgPrince SA, Kristjansson EA, Russell K, Billette JM, Sawada MC, Ali A, Tremblay MS, & Prud’homme D (2012). Relationships Between Neighborhoods, Physical Activity, and Obesity: A Multilevel Analysis of a Large Canadian City. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) PMID: 22262164



  1. It sounds like they didn’t find what they expected to, and I don’t see any reason why it would make sense to draw conclusions about cause and effect based on this. It’s pretty easy to think of how other variables could have played into the correlations. They don’t discuss it in the abstract, but it’s not even clear if they found a correlation between lack of physical activity and obesity.

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  2. High crime rate — greater odds of activity, lower odds of obesity.

    Is everybody running?

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