Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The relationship between urban environment and the inflammatory bowel diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Ing Shian Soon12, Natalie A Molodecky12, Doreen M Rabi12, William A Ghali12, Herman W Barkema23 and Gilaad G Kaplan124*

Author Affiliations

1 Departments of Medicine, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

2 Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

3 Production Animal Health, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

4 Departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Teaching Research and Wellness Center, 3280 Hospital Drive NW, 6th Floor, Room 6D17, Calgary, AB, T2N 4 N1, Alberta, Canada

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BMC Gastroenterology 2012, 12:51  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-12-51

Published: 24 May 2012



The objective of this study was to conduct a systematic review with meta-analysis of studies assessing the association between living in an urban environment and the development of the Crohn’s disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC).


A systematic literature search of MEDLINE (1950-Oct. 2009) and EMBASE (1980-Oct. 2009) was conducted to identify studies investigating the relationship between urban environment and IBD. Cohort and case–control studies were analyzed using incidence rate ratio (IRR) or odds ratio (OR) with 95 % confidence intervals (CIs), respectively. Stratified and sensitivity analyses were performed to explore heterogeneity between studies and assess effects of study quality.


The search strategy retrieved 6940 unique citations and 40 studies were selected for inclusion. Of these, 25 investigated the relationship between urban environment and UC and 30 investigated this relationship with CD. Included in our analysis were 7 case–control UC studies, 9 case–control CD studies, 18 cohort UC studies and 21 cohort CD studies. Based on a random effects model, the pooled IRRs for urban compared to rural environment for UC and CD studies were 1.17 (1.03, 1.32) and 1.42 (1.26, 1.60), respectively. These associations persisted across multiple stratified and sensitivity analyses exploring clinical and study quality factors. Heterogeneity was observed in the cohort studies for both UC and CD, whereas statistically significant heterogeneity was not observed for the case–control studies.


A positive association between urban environment and both CD and UC was found. Heterogeneity may be explained by differences in study design and quality factors.

Inflammatory bowel disease; Urban population; Risk factors