Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have received a $1.5 million federal grant to examine the relationship between zoning code reforms, the physical environment, and physical-activity behavior in communities throughout the U.S.
The study, funded by National Institutes of Health, is one of the first to look at community-level land use nationwide to see how zoning can facilitate or inhibit structural change in the environment that could lead to increased physical activity among adults, says principal investigator Jamie Chriqui, senior research scientist at UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy.
Communities are increasingly using zoning and land-use laws to reform the physical environment. Many zoning reforms of the past decade were aimed at increasing active living through a mix of residential, commercial, retail and recreational areas interconnected by biking, walking, and public transportation.
The reforms have been adopted by communities in at least 35 states as a way to rely less on automobile transportation, reduce sprawl, and increase physical activity, according to the researchers.
But Chriqui says little is known about "whether or not these zoning reforms are being implemented in communities -- through structural changes to the environment such as sidewalks, parks and trails, bike paths, and street connectivity -- and ultimately, whether or not these changes are increasing physical activity levels within communities."
The researchers will compile zoning codes for municipalities and counties encompassing more than half of the U.S. population. Data will be aggregated at the county level, to correlate with county-level physical activity measures.