Promoting Physical Activity Through Healthy Community Design


Research Team: Dr. Lawrence Frank, Meghan Winters, Brian Patterson, and Cora L. Craig.

Funding: Vancouver Foundation and the Bombardier Foundation; carried out in partnership with the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute (CFLRI).

This project examines the statistical relationships between Body Mass Index (BMI), physical activity, and development patterns in southwestern British Columbia. It is the first of its kind undertaken in the Canadian context. Findings corraborate those of previous studies and reveal that certain aspects of the built environment within a kilometer of one’s residence are significantly associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight and physically inactive, over and above socio-demographic factors. Most notably:

  • Residents in the most walkable areas in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria are half as likely to be overweight than those in the least walkable neighbourhoods;
  • Residents living in the most connected (greatest intersection density) neighbourhoods are half as likely to be overweight than those living in the least connected areas;
  • Residents living in areas with the highest retail floor area ratio (where retail is set up against the street) are half as likely to be overweight as those living in neighbourhoods where retail is set behind surface parking lots;
  • Each additional grocery store within a kilometer distance from an individual’s residence is associated with an 11% reduction in the likelihood of being overweight;
  • Living in a neighbourhood with at least one grocery store is associated with a nearly 1.5 times the likelihood of getiing sufficient physical activity, as compared to living in an area with no grocery store;
  • The presence of either a large or small neighbourhood retail land use is associated with an increased likelihood of getting sufficient physical activity (90% significance level).

This project presents a strong public health based argument in favour of developing walkable neighbourhoods, and suggests that land use policies should promote more compact, pedestrian-friendly design, the availability of healthy food choices, and neighbourhood retail in order to improve the health of status of individuals.

To download a summary of the report, click here.

To download the full report, click here.