This new study explores built environment correlates of overweight and obesity among adults in a South Asian context.

For the attention of: The Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority and Transport Department, Government of Tamil Nadu and other regional and city transport agencies facing similar issues.

The problem: India is witnessing a public health crisis where the prevalence of obesity is rising steadily. Increasing physical activity is a preventative strategy to counter this risk. Studies have shown that the design of our built environment (e.g., spaces where residents can exercise) might affect health-related behaviours and outcomes such as obesity.

Impacts of the physical environment on obesity and overweight have been examined in developed countries, however there is minimal research in India.

What we did and why: We surveyed residents of Chennai (164.5 sq. miles, population=7.09 million), capital of Tamil Nadu state in southern India. It is the most urbanized state in India with 48.4% of the population living in urban areas and has the highest number of diabetic cases, a majority of them reported in Chennai. The city has also seen a 24-fold increase in motorized vehicles in the last 10 years with private automobiles now constituting 55% of daily trips.

What our study adds: This study is one of the first to explore neighbourhood environment factors that influence obesity and overweight among urban residents in India;

  • We found that car ownership was associated with increased odds of being overweight/obese;
  • With increasing reliance on automobiles in developing countries and rise in sedentary lifestyles, city planning interventions are needed to mitigate their effects on poor health.

Implications for city policy and practice: By 2030, Indian cities are projected to add an additional 250 million people accompanied by a 9.9% annual growth rate in motor vehicles, with substantial health and socio-economic implications.

  • As car ownership increases, there is an urgent need to develop interventions to promote active transport (e.g., walking, cycling);
  • The availability of pedestrian, bicycling, and transit infrastructure (e.g., sidewalks, crosswalks, bicycle lanes) and access to transport services (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail) can promote active lifestyles.

Full research article: Built environment correlates of overweight and obesity among adults in Chennai, India

Authors: Deepti Adlakha (@drdeeptiadlakha), Ross C. Brownson (@StLouisPRC), J. Aaron Hipp (@drhipp)

Editor: Marcus Grant