Geographic variation in the relationship between body mass index and the built environment. Academic Article uri icon


  • Studies examining associations between weight status and neighborhood built environment (BE) have shown inconsistent results and have generally focused on urban settings. However, many Americans do not live in metropolitan areas and BE impacts may be different outside of metropolitan areas. We sought to examine whether the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and neighborhood BE exists and varies by geographic region across small towns in the United States. We conducted telephone surveys with 2156 adults and geographic information systems data in nine towns located within three geographic regions (Northeast, Texas, Washington) in 2011 and 2012. Multiple regression models examined the relationship between individual BMI and BE measures. Most physical activity variables were significantly associated with lower BMI in all geographic regions. We saw variation across geographic region in the relationship between characteristics of the BE variables and BMI. Some perceived and objectively-measured characteristics of the BE were significantly associated with adult BMI, but significant relationships varied by geographic region. For example, in the Northeast, perceived attractiveness of the neighborhood as a reason for why they chose to live there was associated with lower BMI; in Texas, the perceived presence of a fast food restaurant was negatively associated with BMI; in Washington, perceived presence of trees along the streets was associated with lower BMI. Our findings suggest that regional variation plays a role in the relationship between adult BMI and BE characteristics in small towns. Regardless of geographic location, interventions should encourage utilitarian walking and other forms of physical activity.

published proceedings

  • Prev Med

altmetric score

  • 12.03

author list (cited authors)

  • Adachi-Mejia, A. M., Lee, C., Lee, C., Carlos, H. A., Saelens, B. E., Berke, E. M., & Doescher, M. P.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Adachi-Mejia, Anna M||Lee, Chanam||Lee, Chunkuen||Carlos, Heather A||Saelens, Brian E||Berke, Ethan M||Doescher, Mark P

publication date

  • January 1, 2017 11:11 AM