The proportion of obesity-related behaviours attributable to the neighbourhood built environment in Canadian youth
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The number of obese youth in Canada has tripled over the past 30 years. Two contributing factors to obesity are physical inactivity and poor nutrition. To improve these negative health behaviours, the factors that contribute to their development must be understood and intervened upon. Researchers are focusing on the built environment as one potential factor. The built environment refers to human made physical structures and infrastructure of communities that can influence health behaviours. These include the roads, buildings, parks and recreation facilities, and food retailers of which people can use through work, play, or eating. The purpose of this thesis was to determine how the built environment influences physical inactivity and fast food consumption in 11-15-year-old Canadians. Physical inactivity and fast food consumption were assessed in a national study called the Canadian Health Behaviour in School Aged Children Survey. Over 6000 youth in grades 6 to 10 were examined. Information on several built environment features were obtained in the neighbourhoods of these 6000 youth using Geographic Information Systems. Measures included walkability indices, parks and other outdoor play spaces, recreation facilities, aesthetics, and fast food restaurants. Relationships between behaviours (physical inactivity, excessive fast food consumption) and neighbourhood built environments were examined using complex statistical tests. Results indicated that youth living in highly walkable neighbourhoods, neighbourhoods with few or no cul-de-sacs, and neighbourhoods with a modest amount of park space were most likely to be physically inactive. Youth living in neighbourhoods with a moderate or high density of fast food restaurants were more likely to be excessive fast food consumers than youth living in neighbourhoods with no fast food restaurants. Approximately 15-30% of physical inactivity and excessive fast food consumption within the population was attributed to features of the neighbourhood built environment. This thesis demonstrates that several features of the neighbourhood built environment influence obesity-related health behaviours in youth. Results may guide future policy development and intervention research targeting the built environment.