Ecological models of health behaviour are an important conceptual framework to address the multiple correlates of obesity. Several single-country studies previously examined the relationship between the built environment and obesity in adults, but results are very diverse. An important reason for these mixed results is the limited variability in built environments in these single-country studies. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine associations between perceived neighbourhood built environmental attributes and BMI/weight status in a multi-country study including 12 environmentally and culturally diverse countries.
A multi-site cross-sectional study was conducted in 17 cities (study sites) across 12 countries (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, the UK and USA). Participants (n = 14222, 18–66 years) self-reported perceived neighbourhood environmental attributes. Height and weight were self-reported in eight countries, and measured in person in four countries.
Three environmental attributes were associated with BMI or weight status in pooled data from 12 countries. Safety from traffic was the most robust correlate, suggesting that creating safe routes for walking/cycling by reducing the speed and volume of traffic might have a positive impact upon weight status/BMI across various geographical locations. Close proximity to several local destinations was associated with BMI across all countries, suggesting compact neighbourhoods with more places to walk related to lower BMI. Safety from crime showed a curvilinear relationship with BMI, with especially poor crime safety being related to higher BMI.
Environmental interventions involving these three attributes appear to have international relevance and focusing on these might have implications for tackling overweight/obesity.