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Am J Prev Med. 2009 Feb;36(2):174-81. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2008.09.037.

Built environment and health behaviors among African Americans: a systematic review.

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Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.



An overall understanding of environmental factors that affect weight-related behaviors and outcomes in African American adults is limited. This article presents a summarization of the literature on the built environment and its association with physical activity, diet, and obesity among African Americans.


A systematic review was conducted by searching the PubMed electronic database from inception to July 31, 2007, reviewing bibliographies of eligible articles, and searching authors' personal databases using various search terms for the built environment, physical activity, diet, and obesity. Eligible articles were observational studies that included a study population >or=90% African American (or subgroup analysis), adults (>or=18 yrs), and were published in English; final article data abstraction occurred from October 2007 through February 2008.


A total of 2797 titles were identified from the initial search, and 90 were deemed eligible for abstract review. Of these, 17 articles were eligible for full review and ten met all eligibility criteria. The median sample size was 761 (234 to 10,623), and half of the articles included only African Americans. Light traffic, the presence of sidewalks, and safety from crime were more often positively associated with physical activity, although associations were not consistent (OR range = 0.53-2.43). Additionally, perceived barriers to physical activity were associated with obesity. The presence of supermarkets and specialty stores was consistently positively associated with meeting fruit and vegetable guidelines.


With relatively few studies in the literature focused on African Americans, more research is needed to draw conclusions on features of the built environment that are associated with physical activity, diet, and obesity.

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