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July 1, 2022

Does the Built Environment Have Independent Obesogenic Power? Urban Form and Trajectories of Weight Gain

Buszkiewicz, James H.; Bobb, Jennifer F.; Hurvitz, Philip M.; Arterburn, David; Moudon, Anne Vernez; Cook, Andrea; Mooney, Stephen J.; Cruz, Maricela; Gupta, Shilpi; Lozano, Paula; Rosenberg, Dori E.; Theis, Mary Kay; Anau, Jane; Drewnowski, Adam. (2021). Does the Built Environment Have Independent Obesogenic Power? Urban Form and Trajectories of Weight Gain. International Journal Of Obesity, 45(9), 1914 – 1924.

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Objective To determine whether selected features of the built environment can predict weight gain in a large longitudinal cohort of adults. Methods Weight trajectories over a 5-year period were obtained from electronic health records for 115,260 insured patients aged 18-64 years in the Kaiser Permanente Washington health care system. Home addresses were geocoded using ArcGIS. Built environment variables were population, residential unit, and road intersection densities captured using Euclidean-based SmartMaps at 800-m buffers. Counts of area supermarkets and fast food restaurants were obtained using network-based SmartMaps at 1600, and 5000-m buffers. Property values were a measure of socioeconomic status. Linear mixed effects models tested whether built environment variables at baseline were associated with long-term weight gain, adjusting for sex, age, race/ethnicity, Medicaid insurance, body weight, and residential property values. Results Built environment variables at baseline were associated with differences in baseline obesity prevalence and body mass index but had limited impact on weight trajectories. Mean weight gain for the full cohort was 0.06 kg at 1 year (95% CI: 0.03, 0.10); 0.64 kg at 3 years (95% CI: 0.59, 0.68), and 0.95 kg at 5 years (95% CI: 0.90, 1.00). In adjusted regression models, the top tertile of density metrics and frequency counts were associated with lower weight gain at 5-years follow-up compared to the bottom tertiles, though the mean differences in weight change for each follow-up year (1, 3, and 5) did not exceed 0.5 kg. Conclusions Built environment variables that were associated with higher obesity prevalence at baseline had limited independent obesogenic power with respect to weight gain over time. Residential unit density had the strongest negative association with weight gain. Future work on the influence of built environment variables on health should also examine social context, including residential segregation and residential mobility.


Body-mass Index; Physical-activity; Food Environment; Structural Racism; Obesity; Neighborhoods; Associations; Health; Walkability; Exposure; Environment Models; Minority & Ethnic Groups; Urban Environments; Regression Analysis; Regression Models; Residential Density; Body Mass Index; Property Values; Body Weight Gain; Government Programs; Body Weight; Electronic Medical Records; Electronic Health Records; Fast Food; Buffers; Real Estate; Body Mass; Body Size; Socioeconomics; Health Care