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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

Sponsors:
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: August 2019

Seattle Obesity Study

Previously, the Seattle Obesity Study generated objective measures of the built environment, diet quality, and health outcomes by tracking 500 King County, Washington, participants asked to carry global positioning system devices for a week. The projects’ findings covered the cost of food and people’s choice of supermarket, the absence of food deserts in King County, the clustering of people by weight status and socioeconomic status, and a comparison of food shopping behaviors in Seattle and Paris, France. This new phase of the project is seeking to explain why obesity rates are closely linked to both individual and area socioeconomic status, whereas weight change measured over 12 months is not.  By looking at the built environment and its relationships to food shopping, diet quality, obesity, and related physical activity for residents, the project should help public decision-makers in creating healthier environments.

Principal Investigators:
Anne Vernez Moudon, Urban Design and Planning, UW
Adam Drewnowski, Epidemiology, UW

Sponsors:
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Scheduled completion: July 2020

Structural and Programmatic Effects of Bus Rapid Transit on Physical Activity

This project expands on the previous Light Rail Transit project to examine whether major transportation infrastructure affects physical activity and the cost effectiveness of those changes from a health perspective. The project is determining whether people living close to two new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines (King County Metro’s Rapid Ride) become more physically active after BRT has been implemented than people living far from the BRT lines. Participants are wearing accelerometers and GPS devices and are keeping a travel log for seven days on three different occasions over the course of this five-year study. The project will also review whether King County Metro’s social marketing campaign In Motion will result in residents using transit more often.

Principal Investigators:
Brian E. Saelens, Pediatrics, UW
Frederick P. Rivara, Pediatrics, UW
Anne Vernez Moudon, Urban Design and Planning, UW

Sponsors:
National Institutes of Health
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Scheduled completion: June 2020

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