Obesity levels are high and increasing worldwide, and studies have suggested that place of residence may be associated with levels of obesity and physical activity. Evidence also suggests that levels of incivilities, such as litter and graffiti, are linked to poorer health.
Based on this work, the team set out to test the theory that areas which are pleasant with lots of greenery and few incivilities might encourage people to take exercise and thereby influence levels of obesity.
They analysed data from a large housing and health survey conducted in eight European cities in 2002-3. Questionnaires captured information on height and weight, which was then used to calculate body mass index, and level of physical activity.
Surveyors then assessed the immediate residential environment, including the amount of graffiti, litter, and dog mess, as well as the level of vegetation and greenery visible on the dwelling and streets immediately surrounding it. Factors such as age, sex, and social status, were also taken into account.
For respondents whose residential environment contained high levels of greenery, the likelihood of being more physically active was over three times as high, and the likelihood of being overweight and obese was about 40% less.
In contrast, for respondents whose residential environment contained high levels of incivilities, the likelihood of being more physically active was about 50% less, and the likelihood of being overweight or obese was about 50% higher.
Despite some limitations, these findings suggest that efforts to promote physical activity and reduce weight should take into account environmental facilitators and barriers as well as individual factors, conclude the authors.