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Background
Keywords
Findings
Authors
What is already known on this subject? 
What does this study add?

Text begins

Background

Urban sprawl is a potential environmental influence on youth overweight/obesity.  However, little is known about the association between urban sprawl and behaviours that influence obesity such as active transportation and physical activity.

Methods

The study population consisted of 7,017 respondents aged 12 to 19 to the 2007/2008 Canadian Community Health Survey, living in Canada's 33 census metropolitan areas (CMAs).   Factor analysis was used to obtain an urban sprawl score for each CMA, incorporating dwelling density, percentage of single or detached dwelling units, and percentage of the population living in the urban core.  Multi-level logistic regression examined whether urban sprawl was associated with frequent active transportation (30 or more minutes a day), moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) (60 or more minutes a day), and overweight/obesity.

Results

Urban sprawl was associated with active transportation among 12- to 15-year-olds, with the relative odds of engaging in at least 30 minutes of active transportation per day increasing by 24% (95% CI: 10-39%) for each standard deviation (SD) increase in the urban sprawl score.   For the entire sample aged 12 to 19, higher urban sprawl was associated with MVPA (odds ratio per SD increase = 1.10, 95% CI: 1.01-1.20), but not with overweight/obesity (odds ratio per SD increase = 1.06, 95% CI: 0.94-1.18). 

Interpretation

Urban sprawl was associated with active transportation and MVPA in Canadian youth, although in the opposite direction to what has been reported in the literature for adults. 

Keywords

adolescent behaviour, body mass index, built environment, exercise, residence characteristics, urban planning

Findings

Over the past 30 years, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has nearly tripled among Canadian youth aged 12 to 17, thereby potentially increasing the physical, mental and social problems associated with obesity in young people. Furthermore, obesity tends to persist, with 60% to 90% of obese adolescents remaining obese into adulthood. To develop effective public health strategies, an understanding of the determinants of obesity is important. Because lack of moderate-tovigorous physical activity (MVPA) is acknowledged to be one of those determinants, researchers are interested in features of the surrounding environment that promote or inhibit physical activity.[Full Text]

Authors

Laura Seliske, William Pickett and Ian Janssen (1-613-533-6000 x 78631; ian.janssen@queensu.ca) are with Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6.

What is already known on this subject?  

  • Given the rapidly increasing obesity prevalence among young people, researchers are interested in how aspects of the surrounding environment may contribute to obesity-related outcomes. 
  • American studies have demonstrated that urban sprawl, a component of the surrounding environment, is related to higher levels of obesity in young people.

What does this study add?

  • A positive association emerged between urban sprawl and active transportation and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, which contradicts other findings for youth and adult populations. 
  • The association between urban sprawl and active transportation prevailed only among 12- to 15-year-olds, indicating that driving age was a potential modifier.  This highlighted the importance of considering associations among younger and older adolescents separately.
  • Small variations in the outcomes across CMAs suggest that refinements of the current measure of urban sprawl might capture more variability across geographic areas.