An international research team, led by public health experts at Queen’s University Belfast(Northern Ireland, UK), have conducted the first ever study into the impact of the built environment on levels of exercise and physical activity among people in India.
The research team wanted to examine how the built environment in India plays a key role in enabling or prohibiting physical exercise in the country. Dr Deepti Adlakha from Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Bio-medical Sciences, said: “Our study is the first of its kind in India, a country where rapid, unplanned and unsustainable urban growth are contributing to increasing environmental and health hazards, greater dependence on vehicles for transport, and diminishing open spaces for walking and leisure.”
Dr Adlakha, continued: “Physical inactivity is a major risk factor in the development of these diseases, and the built environment is a key factor in encouraging or inhibiting this. Activity-friendly environments are crucial if we are to halt the epidemic of non-communicable diseases.”
Dr Adlakha adapted the Neighbourhood Environment Walkability Scale (NEWS), an internationally recognised measure to assess residents’ perceptions of how the built environment relates to their physical activity, and the study was the first time NEWS has been adapted for use in India.
Conducted in Chennai, home to 8.9 million people, 370 residents were asked questions about their engagement in physical activity. Respondents outlined several barriers that deterred them from being active, the most common being safety from traffic, safety from crime, lack of maintenance of the built environment, and poor quality pedestrian infrastructure.
Dr Adlakha added: “This study has the potential to be adapted further for use in other Indian cities. It is an important first step in creating better walkable environments, and ultimately healthier lifestyles, for those living in India’s urban areas.”
Non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease are also increasing around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries. India, with a population of 1.2 billion, is experiencing an epidemic of these conditions. India has the world’s largest diabetic population at 33 million and has earned the dubious distinction of ‘diabetes capital’ of the world.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and morbid obesity affects 61 million people in India. These numbers are staggering and highlight a major public health concern.