December 14 | 2020
Longitudinal impact of changes in the residential built environment on physical activity: findings from the ENABLE London cohort study.
Background: Previous research has reported associations between features of the residential built environment and physical activity but these studies have mainly been cross-sectional, limiting inference. This paper examines whether changes in a range of residential built environment features are associated with changes in measures of physical activity in adults. It also explores whether observed effects are moderated by socio-economic status.
Methods: Data from the Examining Neighbourhood Activity in Built Living Environments in London (ENABLE London) study were used. A cohort of 1278 adults seeking to move into social, intermediate, and market-rent East Village accommodation was recruited in 2013-2015, and followed up after 2 years. Accelerometer-derived steps (primary outcome), and GIS-derived measures of residential walkability, park proximity and public transport accessibility were obtained both at baseline and follow-up. Daily steps at follow-up were regressed on daily steps at baseline, change in built environment exposures and confounding variables using multilevel linear regression to assess if changes in neighbourhood walkability, park proximity and public transport accessibility were associated with changes in daily steps. We also explored whether observed effects were moderated by housing tenure as a marker of socio-economic status.
Results: Between baseline and follow-up, participants experienced a 1.4 unit (95%CI 1.2,1.6) increase in neighbourhood walkability; a 270 m (95%CI 232,307) decrease in distance to their nearest park; and a 0.7 point (95% CI 0.6,0.9) increase in accessibility to public transport. A 1 s.d. increase in neighbourhood walkability was associated with an increase of 302 (95%CI 110,494) daily steps. A 1 s.d. increase in accessibility to public transport was not associated with any change in steps overall, but was associated with a decrease in daily steps amongst social housing seekers (- 295 steps (95%CI – 595, 3), and an increase in daily steps for market-rent housing seekers (410 95%CI -191, 1010) (P-value for effect modification = 0.03).
Conclusion: Targeted changes in the residential built environment may result in increases in physical activity levels. However, the effect of improved accessibility to public transport may not be equitable, showing greater benefit to the more advantaged.