Measuring the Built Environment in Studies of Child Health—A Meta-Narrative Review of Associations

Publication authors

Adriana Ortegon-Sanchez; Rosemary R. C. McEachan; Alexandra Albert; Chris Cartwright; Nicola Christie; Ashley Dhanani; Shahid Islam; Marcella Ucci; Laura Vaughan.


Although the built environment (BE) is important for children’s health, there is little consensus about which features are most important due to differences in measurement and outcomes across disciplines. This meta-narrative review was undertaken by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers to summarize ways in which the BE is measured, and how this links to children’s health. A structured search of four databases across the relevant disciplines retrieved 108 relevant references. The most commonly addressed health-related outcomes were active travel, physical activity and play, and obesity. Many studies used objective (GIS and street audits) or standardised subjective (perceived) measurements of the BE. However, there was a wide variety, and sometimes inconsistency, in their definition and use. There were clear associations between the BE and children’s health. Objective physical activity and self-reported active travel, or obesity, were positively associated with higher street connectivity or walkability measures, while self-reported physical activity and play had the strongest association with reduced street connectivity, indicated by quieter, one-way streets. Despite the high heterogeneity found in BE measures and health outcomes, the meta-narrative approach enabled us to identify ten BE categories that are likely to support children’s health and be protective against some non-communicable disease risk factors. Future research should implement consistent BE measures to ensure key features are explored. A systems approach will be particularly relevant for addressing place-based health inequalities, given potential unintended health consequences of making changes to the BE. View Full-Text