Environment and health behaviours

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There is growing realisation among researchers and policy makers that various characteristics of the social, physical and built environment are likely to be significant in shaping the health-related behaviours of individuals. Health-related behaviours such as smoking, nutrition, physical activity, problem gambling and sexual activity are key research and policy priorities in most countries. Importantly, health behaviours are sensitive to environmental influences. Whilst techniques such as multilevel modelling have been important in establishing that places matter for health-related behaviours, more research is required to understand the specific characteristics of environments that shape behaviours. Developing our understanding of these concerns is not only of interest to researchers but offers significant opportunities for long term and sustainable policy options.

The CRESH team have substantive experience in examining the links between the environment and health behaviours. We have developed a range of environmental indicators, often using novel Geographical Information Systems (GIS) methods, to explore how the environment can influence health behaviours. For example, we have completed work in the UK and New Zealand that has provided insights into the influence of environmental characteristics such as green space, access to community resources, and aspects of urban design (e.g. neighbourhood walkability) on individual-level physical activity levels. Other work has considered how area-level features such as regional inequality, residential segregation, neighbourhood disadvantage and the retail environment influence smoking behaviour and cessation. Similarly we have considered the role of the environment in affecting obesity, nutrition and problem gambling.

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