Built Environment Study

Image property of Ina Vukmirovich


Combining PURE Study data on population health with built environment data from corresponding communities, this study aims to examine how the characteristics of the environment in which people live affects rates of and metabolic risk factors for obesity. Urban and rural areas in particular will be compared for differences in environmental features and population health.


Excess body fat is associated with several health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and it may decrease life expectancy. Because there has been such a rapid rise in the prevalence of obesity in Canada in the past thirty years, it is likely that environmental factors are partially responsible for this change. In particular, recent research suggests that the built environment, such as the presence or absence of sidewalks, green spaces, or fast food restaurants, may be associated with obesity. If this is true, then environment-based prevention strategies can have a substantial effect on reducing obesity.


  • 1. To determine the perceived and objective environmental determinants of obesity across a range of urban and rural communities in Canada.
  • 2. To determine the relationship of perceived and objective environmental measures with metabolic risk factors.
  • 3. To determine how changes in the built environment relate to changes in obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes.


Data collection was completed by Vancouver, Hamilton and Quebec City PURE centres, and included a range of urban and rural areas. For objective environmental measures, researchers were given a list of features of interest, and they recorded the presence of these features in outlined areas using handheld GPS units. Using GIS (geographic information system) mapping software, communities will be analyzed for density of features and compared to participant anthropometric measures, obesity rates and metabolic risk factors. Perceived measures were collected during PURE assessments in the form of participant questionnaires; these looked at perceptions of things such as neighbourhood walkability and safety. Environmental and participant data will be used to assess whether there are any differences between the community as it exists and the way it is perceived. By being aware of the influences on obesity, this has the potential to affect obesity-prevention strategies such as city planning and health-promotion programs.

Reassessment Methodology

Thanks to a new collaboration with Cities Changing Diabetes North American Research Hub, researchers used new technology to re-assess the features of the built environment in our participant communities in 2017. The Collector App for ArcGIS synced with ArcGIS Online (AGOL) was used for collecting data in the field. Research assistants used the smartphone app to mark positions of and photograph relevant features as they walked along each segment of the study communities.

Researchers also continue to assess metabolic risk factors among the 2754 residents of these neighbourhoods, including the addition of fasting glucose and HbA1c levels.

Progress to Date

Built environment data collection has been completed, and we are currently in the mapping and analysis stage. Participant physical measurement data collection is ongoing until ~2020.


See publications list