Compact Development and BMI: Environmental Determinism or Self-Selection?

The literature widely reports a statistical association between urban sprawl and individual obesity. What is less clear is the reason for the association. Is it environmental determinism, that is the effect of the built environment on individual behavior such as physical activity and ultimately weight? Or is it self-selection, that is the tendency of healthy weight individuals to select to live in compact places where they can be more physically active? Or is it some of both? Both theories have been promoted in the literature. This study seeks to address this issue using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The authors study health outcomes and behaviors of survey participants at two points in time, and follow them longitudinally for a six-year time period as they move from place to place. They estimate models for the entire cohort and also for movers and stayers separately. They find evidence mostly of self-selection, and weaker evidence of environmental determinism. The authors find no association between changes in sprawl and the changes in BMI for movers. They find that people of healthy weight are more likely to move in the direction of greater neighborhood compactness, while people who are overweight are more likely to move in the direction of greater sprawl. This is not to say that characteristics of place are unimportant, as society needs to meet the latent demand for walkable places, which are currently undersupplied.

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  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This paper was sponsored by TRB committee ADD50 Standing Committee on Environmental Justice in Transportation. Alternate title: Compact Development and Body Mass Index: Environmental Determinism or Self-selection?
  • Corporate Authors:

    Transportation Research Board

    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Authors:
    • Ewing, Reid
    • Hamidi, Shima
  • Conference:
  • Publication Date: 2017


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 16p
  • Monograph Title: TRB 96th Annual Meeting Compendium of Papers

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01623400
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: 17-00856
  • Files: TRIS, TRB, ATRI
  • Created Date: Dec 8 2016 10:12AM