A disadvantaged advantage in walkability: findings from socioeconomic and geographical analysis of national built environment data in the United States

Urban form-the structure of the built environment-can influence physical activity, yet little is known about how walkable design differs according to neighborhood sociodemographic composition. We studied how walkable urban form varies by neighborhood sociodemographic composition, region, and urbanicity across the United States. Using linear regression models and 2000-2001 US Census data, we investigated the relationship between 5 neighborhood census characteristics (income, education, racial/ethnic composition, age distribution, and sex) and 5 walkability indicators in almost 65,000 census tracts in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Data on the built environment were obtained from the RAND Corporation's (Santa Monica, California) Center for Population Health and Health Disparities (median block length, street segment, and node density) and the US Geological Survey's National Land Cover Database (proportion open space and proportion highly developed). Disadvantaged neighborhoods and those with more educated residents were more walkable (i.e., shorter block length, greater street node density, more developed land use, and higher density of street segments). However, tracts with a higher proportion of children and older adults were less walkable (fewer street nodes and lower density of street segments), after adjustment for region and level of urbanicity. Research and policy on the walkability-health link should give nuanced attention to the gap between persons living in walkable areas and those for whom walkability has the most to offer.