We all know how important it is to stay active during pregnancy, but what if the environment around us could play a role in our health? A new study by scientists in the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health’s Built Environment and Health Research Group has found that higher neighborhood walkability is associated with a lower risk of gestational diabetes. This blog post will discuss the research and why it is important for pregnant individuals and their children.
Gestational diabetes (GD) increases infants’ risk of being large for gestational age, may increase the risk of unhealthy weight gain during childhood, and increases the pregnant individual’s risk for future type 2 diabetes. To study the relationship between neighborhood walkability and GD, the research team analyzed city data from more than 109,000 births in 2015. They used a Neighborhood Walkability Index to measure walkability, which includes data on residential density, land use mix, street connectivity, and access to public transit.
The results of the study showed that the risk of GD decreased with increases in Neighborhood Walkability Index score by as much as 20 percent between areas in the highest and lowest quartiles of walkability. Similarly, when the researchers assessed the density of walkable destinations, another measure of neighborhood walkability, pregnant individuals in the highest quartile of walkable destinations had a 23 percent lower risk of GD compared to those living in the lowest quartile.
The researchers theorize that neighborhood walkability is associated with higher levels of walking and physical activity in pregnant individuals, which in turn reduces the risk of GD and excess weight gain during pregnancy. This suggests that urban planning, particularly neighborhood walkability, is important in promoting health. Creating opportunities for pregnant individuals to meet recommendations for healthy physical activity during pregnancy is expected to have long-lasting positive benefits for both parent and child.
Going forward, the research team plans to continue their research on how urban design can support health during pregnancy so that these benefits are included in cost-benefit analyses and decision making for how we design new neighborhoods and re-design existing neighborhoods.
This research is an important reminder of the importance of our environment in our health. It is clear that neighborhood walkability can play a role in reducing the risk of gestational diabetes and promoting healthy pregnancies. As pregnant individuals, it is important to be aware of the environment around us and how it can affect our health.