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Research Graduate School for the Humanities

The relationship between the neighborhood built environment and physical activity

through social-ecological and historical lenses
PhD ceremony:Ms Y. (Yufang) Zhang
When:March 23, 2023
Start:12:45
Supervisors:prof. dr. C. (Cor) Wagenaar, dr. ir. T. (Terry) van Dijk
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Arts
The relationship between the neighborhood built environment and
physical activity

Today is a time with rising health issues related to unhealthy lifestyles, such as insufficient physical activity. Therefore, it is essential to create a physical activity-promoting environment to enhance public health. Many efforts have been made over recent decades. However, many parameters have not yet been sufficiently studied, or suboptimal indicators have been chosen, keeping the true relationship between the built environment and physical activity hidden. This thesis aims to reveal additional important characteristics of the built environment and physical activity, finetune the research methods for enhancing public health.

The research questions are: Which built environment parameters have been explored so far, and how do they relate to health-related outcomes? Which aspects of the built environment have been insufficiently studied and measured in terms of their impact on physical activity? Which specific urban interventions promote physical activity?

Case studies in China and the Netherlands were conducted. The findings proved that the relational dimension of the built environment matters, and they showed that a neighborhood needed to be seen as a whole. Otherwise, useful information can be neglected. Moreover, concepts like density can mean many things; therefore, they need to be better understood before we can prove their relationship with people’s behaviors. Our findings also revealed that a healthier neighborhood is more associated with a higher frequency of physical activity. Three urban intervention categories, namely park and playground interventions, interventions aimed at walking and cycling as well as community-based interventions, were found to have the potential to promote physical activity.