Linking the Urban Environment and Health: An Innovative Methodology for Measuring Individual-Level Environmental Exposures

Publication authors

Kimon Krenz, Ashley Dhanani, Rosemary R. C. McEachan, Kuldeep Sohal, John Wright and Laura Vaughan


Environmental exposures (EE) are increasingly recognised as important determinants of health and well-being. Understanding the influences of EE on health is critical for effective policymaking, but better-quality spatial data is needed. This article outlines the theoretical and technical foundations used for the construction of individual-level environmental exposure measurements for the population of a northern English city, Bradford. The work supports ‘Connected Bradford’, an entire population database linking health, education, social care, environmental and other local government data over a period of forty years. We argue that our current understanding of environmental effects on health outcomes is limited both by methodological shortcomings in the quantification of the environment and by a lack of consistency in the measurement of built environment features. To address these shortcomings, we measure the environmental exposure for a series of different domains including air quality, greenspace and greenness, public transport, walkability, traffic, buildings and the built form, street centrality, land-use intensity, and food environments as well as indoor dwelling qualities. We utilise general practitioners’ historical patient information to identify the precise geolocation and duration of a person’s residence. We model a person’s local neighbourhood, and the probable routes to key urban functions aggregated across the city. We outline the specific geospatial procedure used to quantify the environmental exposure for each domain and use the example of exposure to fast-food outlets to illustrate the methodological challenges in the creation of city and nationwide environmental exposure databases. The proposed EE measures will enable critical research into the relationship and causal links between the built environment and health, informing planning and policy-making.