July 6 | 2020

A scoping review on the relations between urban form and health: a focus on Canadian quantitative evidence.

McCormack GR, Cabaj J, Orpana H, Lukic R, Blackstaffe A, Goopy S, Hagel B, Keough N, Martinson R, Chapman J, Lee C, Tang J, Fabreau G.

Health Promot Chronic Dis Prev Can. 2019 May;39(5):187-200. doi: 10.24095/hpcdp.39.5.03.


Introduction: Despite the accumulating Canadian evidence regarding the relations between urban form and health behaviours, less is known about the associations between urban form and health conditions. Our study aim was to undertake a scoping review to synthesize evidence from quantitative studies that have investigated the relationship between built environment and chronic health conditions, self-reported health and quality of life, and injuries in the Canadian adult population. Methods: From January to March 2017, we searched 13 databases to identify peer-reviewed quantitative studies from all years that estimated associations between the objectively-measured built environment and health conditions in Canadian adults. Studies under-taken within urban settings only were included. Relevant studies were catalogued and synthesized in relation to their reported study and sample design, and health outcome and built environment features. Results: Fifty-five articles met the inclusion criteria, 52 of which were published after 2008. Most single province studies were undertaken in Ontario (n = 22), Quebec (n = 12), and Alberta (n = 7). Associations between the built environment features and 11 broad health outcomes emerged from the review, including injury (n = 19), weight status (n = 19), cardiovascular disease (n = 5), depression/anxiety (n = 5), diabetes (n = 5), mortality (n = 4), self-rated health (n = 2), chronic conditions (n = 2), metabolic condi-tions (n = 2), quality of life (n = 1), and cancer (n = 1). Consistent evidence for associations between aggregate built environment indicators (e.g., walkability) and diabetes and weight and between connectivity and route features (e.g., transportation route, trails, pathways, sidewalks, street pattern, intersections, route characteristics) and injury were found. Evidence for greenspace, parks and recreation features impacting multiple health outcomes was also found. Conclusion: Within the Canadian context, the built environment is associated with a range of chronic health conditions and injury in adults, but the evidence to date has limitations. More research on the built environment and health incorporating rigorous study designs are needed to provide stronger causal evidence to inform policy and practice.

Plain Language Summary

The most frequently reported associations among Canadian studies on urban form and health outcomes were related to injury and weight status. Not all provinces and territories were represented in this review, with much of the evidence coming from studies in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta. Objectively-measured aggregate built environment indicators, connectivity and route features, destinations, food environment, population density, and greenspace, parks and recreation features are associated with a range of modifiable health conditions and injury. This scoping review identifies that more Canadian research, with rigorous designs that allow for causal inference, is required to inform policy and practice.