The Built Environment and Obesity

  • Andrea Garfinkel-CastroEmail author
  • Keuntae Kim
  • Hamidi Shima
  • Reid Ewing
Living reference work entry


The built, or physical, environment consists of its man-made, constructed components – roads and sidewalks, buildings and houses, parks and plazas, and more. Currently, our physical environment is built to accommodate and prioritize motorized transport, cars especially. Travel has been redirected to cars, reducing opportunities for active travel. In examining the built environment and its relationship to obesity, we must acknowledge that the built environment has no direct or immediate effect on obesity; rather, obesity is linked to the built environment as a consequence of human behavior – in this case physical activity. This chapter strives to objectively connect the built environment at varying urban scales – macro, meso, and micro – to the issue of obesity. Aspects of the built environment – specifically, conditions attributable to walkability and urban sprawl – are examined as contributing factors to (in)active travel. Also discussed is the importance of and need for more longitudinal studies to counter the plethora of cross-sectional studies. While cross-sectional studies can adequately define conditions at a point in time, longitudinal studies provide opportunities to establish causality. Self-selection bias is also considered, as it is a source of concern in some studies. We conclude by noting that rates of obesity have risen as our cities have become less walkable and more auto-dependent. Research at all three urban scales finds some relationship between the built environment and active travel but research is not without its shortcomings. More research is still needed, longitudinal and that which controls for self-selection bias in particular, and remains an important arena for further inquiry.


Urban design Physical activity Walkability 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrea Garfinkel-Castro
    • 1
    Email author
  • Keuntae Kim
    • 1
  • Hamidi Shima
    • 3
  • Reid Ewing
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Architecture + PlanningUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.Metropolitan Research CenterUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.School of Urban and Public AffairsUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA

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