How does the built environment relate to body mass index and obesity prevalence among public housing residents?

Katie M. Heinrich, Rebecca E. Lee, Gail R. Regan, Jacqueline Y. Reese-Smith, Hugh H. Howard, C. Keith Haddock, Walker S.Carlos Poston, Jasjit S. Ahluwalia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Purpose. This study examined associations of environmental variables with obesity prevalence and individual body mass index (BMI) among impoverished residents of public housing developments. Design. Cross-sectional data were drawn from two studies in the same Midwestern metropolitan area of participants within neighborhoods. Setting. Pathways to Health interviewed housing development residents and Understanding Neighborhood Determinants of Obesity assessed built environment factors in the surrounding neighborhoods (i.e., 800-m radius from center of housing development). Subjects. Four hundred twenty-one residents participated (mean age = 43.8 years; 72.0 % women, 59.6% high school degree, 79.6% African-American). Fifty-five physical activity resources were identified and assessed. Measures. Demographics and measured weights and heights were obtained for participants. The Physical Activity Resource Assessment measured the type, accessibility, features, amenities, qualities, and incivilities of neighborhood physical activity resources. Neighborhood street connectivity was also measured. Results. Average age-adjusted BMI was 31.4 (SD = 1.3), with 45% of residents obese. High negative correlations were found between BMI and street connectivity (p = . 05) and between obesity prevalence and resource accessibility (p = .09), number of amenities (p = .04), and amenity quality (p = .04). Higher resource accessibility, feature quality, number of amenities, and fewer incivilities per resource accounted for 71% of obesity variance (p < .05). Male gender and higher feature quality, F(11, 407) 37.19 and 12.66, p < .001, predicted lower BMI among residents. Conclusion. Supportive neighborhood environments were related to lower obesity prevalence and lower BMI among residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-194
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Built environment
  • Obesity
  • Overweight
  • Physical activity
  • Prevention research
  • Public housing
  • Resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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