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Development of a Neighborhood Walkability Index for Studying Neighborhood Physical Activity Contexts in Communities across the U.S. over the Past Three Decades

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To examine how urban form shapes physical activity and health over time, a measure of neighborhood walkability is needed that can be linked to cohort studies with participants living across the United States (U.S.) that have been followed over the past decades. The Built Environment and Health-Neighborhood Walkability Index (BEH-NWI), a measure of neighborhood walkability that can be calculated for communities across the United States between 1990 and 2015, was conceptualized, developed, and tested using data from the New York City Tri-State Area. BEH-NWI measures were created for 1990 and 2010 using historical data on population density, street intersection density, density of rail stops, and density of pedestrian trip generating/supporting establishments. BEH-NWI scores were calculated for 1-km buffers around the 1990 residences of NYU Women’s Health Study (NYUWHS) participants and NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Physical Activity and Transit (PAT) survey participants enrolled in 2011. Higher neighborhood BEH-NWI scores were significantly associated with greater self-reported walking per week (+ 0.31 MET-hours/week per unit BEH-NWI, 95% CI 0.23, 0.36) and lower body mass index (− 0.17 BMI units per unit BEH-NWI, 95% − 0.23, − 0.12) among NYUWHS participants. Higher neighborhood BEH-NWI scores were associated with significantly higher accelerometer-measured physical activity among PAT survey participants (39% more minutes of moderate-intensity equivalent activity/week across the interquartile range of BEH-NWI, 95% CI 21%, 60%). The BEH-NWI can be calculated using historical data going back to 1990, and BEH-NWI scores predict BMI, weekly walking, and physical activity in two NYC area datasets.

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Application programming interface


Body mass index


Center for Transit-Oriented Development


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Metabolic equivalent task


New York City


New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene


New York City Neighborhood Walkability Index


New York State Location Information System (NYS-ALIS)


New York University Women’s Health Survey


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Built Environment and Health-Neighborhood Walkability Index


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Grants and financial: Drs. Rundle, Lovasi and Neckerman were supported by National Institute on Aging grant R01AG049970-03.

Drs. Rundle and Neckerman and Mr. Quinn were supported by the Columbia Population Research Center, which is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P2CHD058486. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Neckerman was supported by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Grant #INO13-00023 “Economic Inequality and Sustainable Transportation Policy”.

Dr. Mooney was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grant 5T32HD057833-07.

Drs. Chen, Rahai, and Zeleniuch-Jacquotte were supported by National Cancer Institute grants UM1CA182934 and P30 CA016087 and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center grant ES000260.

Drs. Bartley and Rundle and Mr. Quinn were supported by CDC’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work grants 3U58DP002418-01S1 and 1U58DP002418-01.

Financial Disclosure: Dr. Rundle has served as a consultant for the International WELL Building Institute which works on architectural and urban design to promote health.

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Correspondence to Andrew G. Rundle.

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Rundle, A.G., Chen, Y., Quinn, J.W. et al. Development of a Neighborhood Walkability Index for Studying Neighborhood Physical Activity Contexts in Communities across the U.S. over the Past Three Decades. J Urban Health 96, 583–590 (2019).

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