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Open Access Methodology

The effects of neighborhood density and street connectivity on walking behavior: the Twin Cities walking study

J Michael Oakes1*, Ann Forsyth2 and Kathryn H Schmitz3

Author affiliations

1 Division of Epidemiology & Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA

2 Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

3 Division of Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Citation and License

Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations 2007, 4:16  doi:10.1186/1742-5573-4-16

Published: 13 December 2007

Abstract

A growing body of health and policy research suggests residential neighborhood density and street connectivity affect walking and total physical activity, both of which are important risk factors for obesity and related chronic diseases. The authors report results from their methodologically novel Twin Cities Walking Study; a multilevel study which examined the relationship between built environments, walking behavior and total physical activity. In order to maximize neighborhood-level variation while maintaining the exchangeability of resident-subjects, investigators sampled 716 adult persons nested in 36 randomly selected neighborhoods across four strata defined on density and street-connectivity – a matched sampling design. Outcome measures include two types of self-reported walking (from surveys and diaries) and so-called objective 7-day accelerometry measures. While crude differences are evident across all outcomes, adjusted effects show increased odds of travel walking in higher-density areas and increased odds of leisure walking in low-connectivity areas, but neither density nor street connectivity are meaningfully related to overall mean miles walked per day or increased total physical activity. Contrary to prior research, the authors conclude that the effects of density and block size on total walking and physical activity are modest to non-existent, if not contrapositive to hypotheses. Divergent findings are attributed to this study's sampling design, which tends to mitigate residual confounding by socioeconomic status.