Examining relationships between features of the built environment and physical activity is achievable with geographic information systems technology (GIS). The purpose of this paper is to review the literature to identify GIS measures that can be considered for inclusion in national public health surveillance efforts. In the absence of a universally agreed upon framework that integrates physical, social, and cultural aspects of the environment, we used a multidimensional model of access to synthesize the literature.
We identified 29 studies published between 2005 and 2009 with physical activity outcomes that included 1 or more built environment variables measured using GIS. We sorted built environment measures into 5 dimensions of access: accessibility, availability, accommodation, affordability, and acceptability.
Geospatial land-use data, street network data, environmental audits, and commercial databases can be used to measure the availability, accessibility, and accommodation dimensions of access. Affordability and acceptability measures rely on census and self-report data.
GIS measures have been included in studies investigating the built environment and physical activity, although few have examined more than 1 construct of access. Systematic identification and collection of relevant GIS measures can facilitate collaboration and accelerate the advancement of research on the built environment and physical activity.
The authors are with the Applied Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD.