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Walkable neighbourhoods critical to healthy lifestyle: Vancouver study

New research out of the My Health My Community survey suggests people living in walkable neighbourhoods have a lesser chance of being obese or overweight.

A new survey of 33,000 Metro Vancouverites found that people who live in more walkable neighbourhoods tend to less overweight than people living in car-dependent areas.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

A new survey of 33,000 Metro Vancouverites found that people who live in more walkable neighbourhoods tend to less overweight than people living in car-dependent areas.

People living in Metro Vancouver’s most walkable neighbourhoods are one third less likely to be overweight or obese than those living in more car-dependent areas, according to new research being presented at this week’s World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver.

The data was taken from the My Health My Community project, which surveyed more than 33,000 respondents in the Lower Mainland between 2013 and 2014. Questions ranged from how much time is spent on electronic devices to whether errands are run by foot or car. When it comes to the latter, the research suggests a neighbourhood’s physical features – like its schools, retail stores and parks – can negatively impact health if they’re not close by.

“We know that obesity is on the pathway to diabetes,” Dr. Jat Sandhu with Vancouver Coastal Health told Metro. “We know that often adulthood obesity is a precursor to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers. Walkable neighbourhoods have a role to play in preventing obesity and Type 2 diabetes by encouraging active lifestyles.”

The study measured walkability by using Body Mass Index and Walk Score (WS), an indicator developed for real estate use that ranks neighbourhoods between zero and 100. Of the Metro Vancouverites surveyed, 58 per cent were obese/overweight, while seven per cent reported having diabetes. Researchers found that compared to car-dependent areas (a WS score of less than 50), those living in “walker’s paradise” (a WS score of 90 or higher) had 31 per cent lower odds of being obese/overweight. Those living in very walkable areas (a WS score between 70 and 89) had 11 per cent lower odds.

Walkable neighbourhoods include Vancouver’s West End, which Realtor.ca gives a Walk Score of 93. The Morgan Heights neighbourhood in Surrey is an example of a car-dependent area and has a Walk Score of 24.

Sandhu added this granular data is a great tool for city planners.

“They should start looking at how walkable neighbourhoods are not only for community consecutiveness, people getting from point A to point B, but also as a physical activity resource for the community,” he said. “You want to make walking as easy as possible as part of their daily routine.”

For the majority of respondents living in Metro Vancouver (about 70 per cent), amenities are within walking and cycling distance. Fifty-five per cent said they commute by car, 28 per cent reported getting around on transit and 14 per cent listed walking or cycling as their main mode of transportation.

The World Diabetes Congress kicks off Nov. 30 and runs until Dec. 4 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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