Smart Cities, Healthy Kids: The Association between Neighbourhood Design and Children's Physical Activity and Time Spent Sedentary

Article excerpt


Objectives: To determine whether, and to what extent, a relation exists between neighbourhood design and children's physical activity and sedentary behaviours in Saskatoon.

Methods: Three neighbourhood designs were assessed: 1) core neighbourhoods developed before 1930 that follow a grid pattern, 2) fractured-grid pattern neighbourhoods that were developed between the 1930s and mid-1960s, and 3) curvilinear-pattern neighbourhoods that were developed between the mid-1960s through to 1998. Children aged 10-14 years (N=455; mean age 11.7 years), grouped by the neighbourhoods they resided in, had their physical activity and sedentary behaviour objectively measured by accelerometry for 7 days. ANCOVA and MANCOVA (multivariate analysis of covariance) models were used to assess group differences (p<0.05).

Results: Group differences were apparent on weekdays but not on weekend days. When age, sex and family income had been controlled for, children living in fractured-grid neighbourhoods had, on average, 83 and 55 fewer accelerometer counts per minute on weekdays than the children in the core and curvilinear-pattern neighbourhoods, respectively. Further analyses showed that the children in the fractured-grid neighbourhoods accumulated 15 and 9 fewer minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day and had a greater time spent in sedentary behaviour (23 and 17 minutes) than those in core and curvilinear-pattern neighbourhoods, respectively.

Conclusion: These data suggest that in Saskatoon there is a relation between neighbourhood design and children's physical activity and sedentary behaviours. Further work is needed to tease out which features of the built environments have the greatest impact on these important lifestyle behaviours. This information, offered in the context of ongoing development of neighbourhoods, as we see in Saskatoon, is critical to an evidence-informed approach to urban development and planning.

Key words: Urban; built environment; accelerometer; lifestyle; city planning

La traduction du résumé se trouve à la fin de l'article. Can J Public Health 2012;103(Suppl. 3):S22-S28.

The increased concern over escalating levels of chronic disease and the emergence of the smart growth movement has yielded a series of studies investigating how aspects of the built environment influence the physical activity and sedentary behaviours of children.1-6 Studies show that improving the built environment to "make the healthy choice the easy choice" is essential to increasing children's physical activity levels.7-10 In a recent systematic review by Durand et al.,11 five smart growth factors (diverse housing types, mixed land use, housing density, compact development patterns and levels of open space) were linked with increased levels of physical activity in children.

The burgeoning field of research related to physical activity and the built environment is starting to influence the work of city planners. For example, the City of Saskatoon, City Centre Plan Phase 1 (2011),12 provides a policy framework that defines, directs and evaluates development of the city centre to ensure that it balances the environmental, social and economic needs of the community. Interestingly, since Saskatoon was incorporated as a city in 1906, its neighbourhoods have gradually developed into what today are three distinct design types: core neighbourhoods, fractured-grid pattern neighbourhoods and curvilinear-pattern neighbourhoods. The core neighbourhoods, developed before 1930, represent the oldest of the neighbourhood designs in Saskatoon, wherein the road networks follow a grid pattern. These are typified by higher density (11.75 people/acre), mixed-use neighbourhoods connected by straight, intersecting streets. Surrounding the core neighbourhoods are the fractured-grid pattern neighbourhoods, or semi-suburban districts, which were developed between the 1930s and mid-1960s. The fractured-grid pattern neighbourhoods tend to be of lower density (9. …