Open Access Research article

Assessing the influence of the built environment on physical activity for utility and recreation in suburban metro Vancouver

Lisa Oliver1, Nadine Schuurman2*, Alexander Hall2 and Michael Hayes3

Author Affiliations

1 Health Analysis Division, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada

2 Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada

3 Health Education and Research, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:959  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-959

Published: 30 December 2011



Physical inactivity and associated co-morbidities such as obesity and cardiovascular disease are estimated to have large societal costs. There is increasing interest in examining the role of the built environment in shaping patterns of physical activity. However, few studies have: (1) simultaneously examined physical activity for leisure and utility; (2) selected study areas with a range of built environment characteristics; and (3) assessed the built environment using high-resolution land use data.


Data on individuals used for this study are from a survey of 1602 adults in selected sites across suburban Metro Vancouver. Four types of physical activity were assessed: walking to work/school, walking for errands, walking for leisure and moderate physical activity for exercise. The built environment was assessed by constructing one-kilometre road network buffers around each respondent's postal code. Measures of the built environment include terciles of recreational and park land, residential land, institutional land, commercial land and land use mix.


Logistic regression analyses showed that walking to work/school and moderate physical activity were not associated with any built environment measure. Living in areas with lower land use mix, lower commercial and lower recreational land increased the odds of low levels of walking for errands. Individuals living in the lower third of land use mix and institutional land were more likely to report low levels of walking for leisure.


These results suggest that walking for errands and leisure have a greater association with the built environment than other dimensions of physical activity.