People living amongst graffiti, litter and little greenery, more likely to be unfit and obese

According to researchers from Glasgow University people living in city areas with little greenery and lots of graffiti and litter, are more likely to be obese than those living in pleasant areas with lots of greenery.

Worldwide, obesity has become an increasing problem, and other studies have suggested that where a person lives may be associated with levels of obesity and physical activity.

It has also been suggested that lack of evident care and respect for the surrounding environment, such as litter and graffiti, are linked to poorer health.

Using this prior work as a basis, the team, led by senior researcher Anne Ellaway, set out to test the theory that areas which are pleasant with lots of greenery and little evidence of litter and graffiti, might encourage people to take exercise and therefore influence levels of obesity.

By analysing data from a large housing and health survey conducted in eight European cities in 2002-3, and questionnaires which garnered information on height and weight, Ellaway and colleagues Sally Macintyre and Xavier Bonnefoy, were then able to calculate body mass index, and levels of physical activity.

A team of surveyors then did an assessment of the immediate residential environment, including the amount of graffiti, litter, and dog mess, as well as the level of vegetation and greenery visible on the dwelling and streets immediately surrounding it.

Also taken into account were factors such as age, sex, and social status.

The researchers found that for people whose residential environment contained high levels of greenery, the likelihood of being more physically active was over three times as high, and the likelihood of being overweight and obese was about 40% less.

By contrast, for people whose residential environment contained high levels of incivilities, the likelihood of being more physically active was about 50% less, and the likelihood of being overweight or obese was about 50% higher.

The authors concluded that despite some limitations, efforts to promote physical activity and reduce weight, should take into account environmental facilitators and barriers as well as individual factors.

The study is published on


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