Built Environments and Obesity in Disadvantaged Populations
In the United States, health disparities in obesity and obesity-related illnesses have been the subject of growing concern. To better understand how obesity-related health disparities might relate to obesogenic built environments, the authors conducted a systematic review of the published scientific literature, screening for studies with relevance to disadvantaged individuals or areas, identified by low socioeconomic status, black race, or Hispanic ethnicity. A search for related terms in publication databases and topically related resources yielded 45 studies published between January 1995 and January 2009 with at least 100 participants or area residents that provided information on 1) the built environment correlates of obesity or related health behaviors within one or more disadvantaged groups or 2) the relative exposure these groups had to potentially obesogenic built environment characteristics. Upon consideration of the obesity and behavioral correlates of built environment characteristics, research provided the strongest support for food stores (supermarkets instead of smaller grocery/convenience stores), places to exercise, and safety as potentially influential for disadvantaged groups. There is also evidence that disadvantaged groups were living in worse environments with respect to food stores, places to exercise, aesthetic problems, and traffic or crime-related safety. One strategy to reduce obesity would involve changing the built environment to be more supportive of physical activity and a healthy diet. Based on the authors' review, increasing supermarket access, places to exercise, and neighborhood safety may also be promising strategies to reduce obesity-related health disparities.