Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geography and Environmental Resources

First Advisor

Duram, Lelsie


Scholars have established that our geographic environments – including infrastructure for walking and food availability - contribute to the current obesity epidemic in the United States. However, the relationship between food, walkability, and obesity has largely only been investigated in large urban areas. Further, many studies have not taken an in-depth look at the spatial fabric of walkability, food, and obesity. The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) to explore reliable methods, using sociodemographic census data, for estimating obesity at the neighborhood level in one region of the U.S. made up of rural areas and small towns – southern Illinois; and 2) to investigate the ways that the food environment and walkability correlate with obesity across neighborhoods with different geographies, population densities, and socio-demographic characteristics. This study uses spatial analysis techniques and GIS, namely geographically weighted multivariate linear regression and cluster analysis, to estimate obesity at the census block group level. Walkability and the food environment are investigated in depth before the relationship between obesity and the built environment is analyzed using GIS and spatial analysis. The study finds that the influence of various food and walkability measures on obesity is spatially varying and significantly mediated by socio-demographic factors. The study concludes that the relationship between obesity and the built environment can be studied quantitatively in study areas of any size or population density but an open-minded approach toward measures must be taken and geographic variation cannot be ignored. This work is timely and important because of the dearth of small area obesity data, as well an absence of research on obesogenic physical environments outside of large urban areas.




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