Rethinking walkability and developing a conceptual definition of active living environments to guide research and practice
BMC Public Health
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Background: Walkability is a popular term used to describe aspects of the built and social environment that have important population-level impacts on physical activity, energy balance, and health. Although the term is widely used by researchers, practitioners, and the general public, and multiple operational definitions and walkability measurement tools exist, there are is no agreed-upon conceptual definition of walkability. Method: To address this gap, researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland hosted “The Future of Walkability Measures Workshop” in association with researchers from the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE) in November 2017. During the workshop, trainees, researchers, and practitioners worked together in small groups to iteratively develop and reach consensus about a conceptual definition and name for walkability. The objective of this paper was to discuss and propose a conceptual definition of walkability and related concepts. Results: In discussions during the workshop, it became clear that the term walkability leads to a narrow conception of the environmental features associated with health as it inherently focuses on walking. As a result, we suggest that the term Active Living Environments, as has been previously proposed in the literature, are more appropriate. We define Active Living Environments (ALEs) as the emergent natural, built, and social properties of neighbourhoods that promote physical activity and health and allow for equitable access to health-enhancing resources. Conclusions: We believe that this broader conceptualization allows for a more comprehensive understanding of how built, natural, and social environments can contribute to improved health for all members of the population.