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Observation Techniques 
The Built Environment

The term built environment refers to the manmade surroundings that provide the setting for human activity, ranging in scale from buildings, parks and green spaces to neighborhoods and cities. This term often includes the supporting infrastructure, such as water supply or energy networks. The built environment is a material, spatial and cultural product of human labor that combines physical elements and energy in forms for living, working and playing. It has been defined as the humanitarian-made space in which people live, work, and recreate on a day-to-day basis.

Within the Environment and Policy Lab use a number of measurement techniques to capture built and social environment characteristics as well an individual level behaviors. This includes a NASA-developed imaging system known as GigaPan to document neighborhood attributes, accelerometers to objectively measure physical activity, and mobile phone applications which are utilized to gather GPS and survey data related to physical activity and usage of structures within the built environment.

Impact On Health

Among built environment features, walkability and access to recreational spaces have shown to have a significant influence on physical activity and obesity levels. The staggering health and financial consequences of physical inactivity and obesity have led many researchers to examine the predictors of these behaviors. Ecological models with multiple levels of influences have received much attention, with particular focus on built environment factors.  

The Environment and Policy Lab aims to increase physical activity through environmental improvements and public policy. We use a variety of cutting-edge measurement techniques to document neighborhood attributes and quantify daily lived experiences. Data on attributes such as community walkability, access to affordable healthy food, and utilization of parks and playgrounds are used to explain how people interact with their environments. We are currently examining how these exposures affect individual level physical activity, health, and wellness across the lifespan. Working with community organizations, city planners and policy makers, our ultimate goal is to help eliminate health inequities.

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