Health and Transportation

Moving to Health: How Changing the Built Environment Impacts Weight and Glycemic Control

Where people live affects their health, weight, and well-being. Studies have pointed to multiple links between residential location, aspects of the surrounding built environment, and the neighborhood prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D). Among the physical built environment features that have been proposed to lower obesity and T2D risk are neighborhood walkability to support daily activity, access to healthy food sources such as supermarkets and farmers’ markets, fewer neighborhood fast foods or convenience stores, and more parks and trails. This study is using data from Kaiser Permanente Washington (KPWA), a large, integrated health insurance and care delivery system. By attaching a geographic context to anonymized KPWA electronic medical records in King County, Wash., researchers are examining the impacts of individual-level neighborhood built environment factors on body weight and glycemic control over a 12-year period. As a subcontract to the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, the UW Urban Form Lab is providing necessary data on land-use and mix, transportation infrastructure, neighborhood composition, and traffic conditions. Armed with the study’s findings, urban planners and policymakers will be able to target different built environment features for intervention and help to create demand for those neighborhood features that are most likely to support health.

Principal Investigators:
Anne Vernez Moudon, Urban Design and Planning, UW
Philip Hurvitz, Urban Design and Planning, UW

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

Scheduled completion: June 2022

TWIN Study of Environment, Lifestyle Behaviors, and Health

This project builds on the Washington State Twin Registry, which includes some 8,000 twin pairs participating in a range of medical studies. The use of twins allows researchers to control for genetic and childhood social and environmental factors in ways that are not possible in studies based on singletons. This project is using a twin design and cutting edge measurement tools and spatial data to examine how the built environment is associated with physical activity and eating habits, and how aspects of the built environment affect physical activity and nutrition in its association with body mass index. Researchers at the UW Urban Form Lab are providing and analyzing data on development densities, land uses, transportation systems, and socio-demographics characteristics of areas of interest in Washington state, as well as processing data from accelerometers, GPS, and travel diaries to produce detailed, time-stamped Life Logs. From the Life Logs, physical activity and walking bouts will be identified, as will eating and food shopping episodes. Further processing of these data will include the identification of mobility patterns and activity spaces over the course of 7-day assessment periods.  As twins living in the same locations are compared to those living separately, it will be possible to isolate the effects of the built environment on physical activity

Principal Investigators:
Glen E. Duncan, College of Medicine, WSU
Anne Vernez Moudon, Urban Design and Planning, UW

Sponsor: National Institutes of Health
Scheduled completion: March 2024