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Neighbourhood physical activity environments and adiposity in children and mothers: a three-year longitudinal study

Anna Timperio1, Robert W Jeffery2, David Crawford1*, Rebecca Roberts1, Billie Giles-Corti3 and Kylie Ball1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Physical Activity & Nutrition Research, School of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Hwy, Burwood VIC 3125, Australia

2 Obesity Prevention Center, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, 1300 S 2nd Street, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55454, USA

3 School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley WA 6009, Australia

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010, 7:18  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-7-18

Published: 19 February 2010



Although neighbourhood environments are often blamed for contributing to rising levels of obesity, current evidence is based predominantly on cross-sectional samples. This study examined associations between objectively-measured environmental characteristics of neighbourhoods and adiposity cross-sectionally and longitudinally over three years in children and their female carers.


Longitudinal study of 140 5-6 year-old and 269 10-12 year-old children and their female carers (n = 369). At baseline (2001) and follow-up (2004), height and weight were measured among children and self-reported among female carers, and were used to compute BMI z-scores and BMI, respectively. A Geographic Information System determined access to destinations (public open spaces, sports options, walking/cycling tracks), road connectivity (density of cul-de-sacs and intersections, proportion of 4-way intersections, length of 'access' paths (overpasses, access lanes, throughways between buildings)) and traffic exposure (length of 'busy' and 'local' roads) within 800 m and 2 km of home. Univariate and multivariable linear regression analyses examined associations between environmental characteristics and BMI/BMI z-scores at baseline and change in BMI/BMI z-scores over the three years.


Cross-sectionally, BMI z-score was inversely associated with length (km) of access paths within 800 m (b = -0.50) and 2 km (b = -0.16) among younger and number of sport/recreation public open spaces (b = -0.14) and length (km) of 'access' paths (b = -0.94) within 800 m and length of local roads within 2 km (b = -0.01) among older children. Among female carers, BMI was associated with length (km) of walking/cycling tracks (b = 0.17) and busy roads (b = -0.34) within 800 m. Longitudinally, the proportion of intersections that were 4-way (b = -0.01) within 800 m of home was negatively associated with change in BMI z-score among younger children, while length (km) of access paths (b = 0.18) within 800 m was significant among older children. Among female carers, options for aerobics/fitness and swimming within 2 km were associated with change in BMI (B = -0.42).


A small number of neighbourhood environment features were associated with adiposity outcomes. These differed by age group and neighbourhood scale (800 m and 2 km) and were inconsistent between cross-sectional and longitudinal findings. However, the results suggest that improvements to road connectivity and slowing traffic and provision of facilities for leisure activities popular among women may support obesity prevention efforts.