The Urban Built Environment and Obesity in New York City

A Multilevel Analysis

Recent research suggests that built environment characteristics affect rates of obesity by influencing physical activity patterns. The authors of the present article investigate whether this holds true within a densely-settled city. They compare the objectively-measured heights and weights of 13,102 adult volunteers recruited from the five boroughs of New York City with census tracts. The study relates common indicators of the built environment, such as population density, land use mix and access to public transit, to body mass index (BMI), while controlling for individual and neighborhood-level sociodemographic characteristics.

Results reveal that people living in tracts with higher population density, greater density of subway and bus stops, and a more even mix of residential and commercial land uses have significantly lower BMI than other New Yorkers. Accordingly, the authors suggest that transportation policy, zoning and other city planning policies may offer tools to promote activity, and encourage maintenance of a healthy body size. Further analyses of other neighborhood characteristics, such as access to parks and recreational facilities, crime rates, and the distribution of grocery stores and fast food restaurants are likely to result in additional recommendations for local policy-makers.