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1.  Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture 
The Journal of Applied Ecology  2014;51(4):880-889.
Modern agriculture, in seeking to maximize yields to meet growing global food demand, has caused loss of soil organic carbon (SOC) and compaction, impairing critical regulating and supporting ecosystem services upon which humans also depend. Own-growing makes an important contribution to food security in urban areas globally, but its effects on soil qualities that underpin ecosystem service provision are currently unknown. We compared the main indicators of soil quality; SOC storage, total nitrogen (TN), C : N ratio and bulk density (BD) in urban allotments to soils from the surrounding agricultural region, and between the allotments and other urban greenspaces in a typical UK city. A questionnaire was used to investigate allotment management practices that influence soil properties. Allotment soils had 32% higher SOC concentrations and 36% higher C : N ratios than pastures and arable fields and 25% higher TN and 10% lower BD than arable soils. There was no significant difference between SOC concentration in allotments and urban non-domestic greenspaces, but it was higher in domestic gardens beneath woody vegetation. Allotment soil C : N ratio exceeded that in non-domestic greenspaces, but was lower than that in garden soil. Three-quarters of surveyed allotment plot holders added manure, 95% composted biomass on-site, and many added organic-based fertilizers and commercial composts. This may explain the maintenance of SOC, C : N ratios, TN and low BD, which are positively associated with soil functioning. Synthesis and applications. Maintenance and protection of the quality of our soil resource is essential for sustainable food production and for regulating and supporting ecosystem services upon which we depend. Our study establishes, for the first time, that small-scale urban food production can occur without the penalty of soil degradation seen in conventional agriculture, and maintains the high soil quality seen in urban greenspaces. Given the involvement of over 800 million people in urban agriculture globally, and its important contribution to food security, our findings suggest that to better protect soil functions, local, national and international urban planning and policy making should promote more urban own-growing in preference to further intensification of conventional agriculture to meet increasing food demand.
PMCID: PMC4301088  PMID: 25641978
ecosystem services; food security; greenspace; grow your own; organic carbon; sustainable agriculture
2.  What Personal and Environmental Factors Determine Frequency of Urban Greenspace Use? 
For many people, urban greenspaces are the only places where they encounter the natural world. This is concerning as there is growing evidence demonstrating that human well-being is enhanced by exposure to nature. There is, therefore, a compelling argument to increase how frequently people use urban greenspaces. This may be achieved in two complementary ways by encouraging: (I) non-users to start visiting urban greenspaces; (II) existing users to visit more often. Here we examine the factors that influence frequency of greenspace visitation in the city of Sheffield, England. We demonstrate that people who visit a site least frequently state lower self-reported psychological well-being. We hypothesised that a combination of socio-demographic characteristics of the participants, and the biophysical attributes of the greenspaces that they were visiting, would be important in influencing visit frequency. However, socio-demographic characteristics (income, age, gender) were not found to be predictors. In contrast, some biophysical attributes of greenspaces were significantly related to use frequency. Frequent use was more likely when the time taken to reach a greenspace was shorter and for sites with a higher index of greenspace neglect, but were unrelated to tree cover or bird species richness. We related these results to the motivations that people provide for their visits. Infrequent users were more likely to state motivations associated with the quality of the space, while frequent users gave motivations pertaining to physical, repeated activities. This suggests that there may be no simple way to manage greenspaces to maximise their use across user cohorts as the motivations for visits are very different.
PMCID: PMC4143844  PMID: 25105548
ecosystem services; psychological well-being; urban ecology; urbanisation; motivation
3.  Beyond greenspace: an ecological study of population general health and indicators of natural environment type and quality 
Many studies suggest that exposure to natural environments (‘greenspace’) enhances human health and wellbeing. Benefits potentially arise via several mechanisms including stress reduction, opportunity and motivation for physical activity, and reduced air pollution exposure. However, the evidence is mixed and sometimes inconclusive. One explanation may be that “greenspace” is typically treated as a homogenous environment type. However, recent research has revealed that different types and qualities of natural environments may influence health and wellbeing to different extents.
This ecological study explores this issue further using data on land cover type, bird species richness, water quality and protected or designated status to create small-area environmental indicators across Great Britain. Associations between these indicators and age/sex standardised prevalence of both good and bad health from the 2011 Census were assessed using linear regression models. Models were adjusted for indicators of socio-economic deprivation and rurality, and also investigated effect modification by these contextual characteristics.
Positive associations were observed between good health prevalence and the density of the greenspace types, “broadleaf woodland”, “arable and horticulture”, “improved grassland”, “saltwater” and “coastal”, after adjusting for potential confounders. Inverse associations with bad health prevalence were observed for the same greenspace types, with the exception of “saltwater”. Land cover diversity and density of protected/designated areas were also associated with good and bad health in the predicted manner. Bird species richness (an indicator of local biodiversity) was only associated with good health prevalence. Surface water quality, an indicator of general local environmental condition, was associated with good and bad health prevalence contrary to the manner expected, with poorer water quality associated with better population health. Effect modification by income deprivation and urban/rural status was observed for several of the indicators.
The findings indicate that the type, quality and context of ‘greenspace’ should be considered in the assessment of relationships between greenspace and human health and wellbeing. Opportunities exist to further integrate approaches from ecosystem services and public health perspectives to maximise opportunities to inform policies for health and environmental improvement and protection.
PMCID: PMC4455695  PMID: 25924685
Greenspace; Blue space; Nature; General health; Census; UK; Salutogenesis
4.  Are soils in urban ecosystems compacted? A citywide analysis 
Biology Letters  2011;7(5):771-774.
Soil compaction adversely influences most terrestrial ecosystem services on which humans depend. This global problem, affecting over 68 million ha of agricultural land alone, is a major driver of soil erosion, increases flood frequency and reduces groundwater recharge. Agricultural soil compaction has been intensively studied, but there are no systematic studies investigating the extent of compaction in urban ecosystems, despite the repercussions for ecosystem function. Urban areas are the fastest growing land-use type globally, and are often assumed to have highly compacted soils with compromised functionality. Here, we use bulk density (BD) measurements, taken to 14 cm depth at a citywide scale, to compare the extent of surface soil compaction between different urban greenspace classes and agricultural soils. Urban soils had a wider BD range than agricultural soils, but were significantly less compacted, with 12 per cent lower mean BD to 7 cm depth. Urban soil BD was lowest under trees and shrubs and highest under herbaceous vegetation (e.g. lawns). BD values were similar to many semi-natural habitats, particularly those underlying woody vegetation. These results establish that, across a typical UK city, urban soils were in better physical condition than agricultural soils and can contribute to ecosystem service provision.
PMCID: PMC3169067  PMID: 21508018
soil compaction; urbanization; greenspace; ecosystem services; urban ecology; land-use change
5.  Organic carbon hidden in urban ecosystems 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:963.
Urbanization is widely presumed to degrade ecosystem services, but empirical evidence is now challenging these assumptions. We report the first city-wide organic carbon (OC) budget for vegetation and soils, including under impervious surfaces. Urban soil OC storage was significantly greater than in regional agricultural land at equivalent soil depths, however there was no significant difference in storage between soils sampled beneath urban greenspaces and impervious surfaces, at equivalent depths. For a typical U.K. city, total OC storage was 17.6 kg m−2 across the entire urban area (assuming 0 kg m−2 under 15% of land covered by buildings). The majority of OC (82%) was held in soils, with 13% found under impervious surfaces, and 18% stored in vegetation. We reveal that assumptions underpinning current national estimates of ecosystem OC stocks, as required by Kyoto Protocol signatories, are not robust and are likely to have seriously underestimated the contributions of urban areas.
PMCID: PMC3520025  PMID: 23236585
6.  Greenspace access, use, and physical activity: understanding the effects of area deprivation 
Preventive medicine  2009;49(6):500-505.
To understand the patterning of greenspace provision and use by area deprivation, and determine how deprivation moderates relationships with physical activity.
The responses obtained from 6,821 respondents to the 2005 ‘The Quality of Life in your Neighbourhood Survey’ undertaken in Bristol, England, were combined with objective measures of access to greenspaces. Area deprivation was determined using the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Descriptive analyses examined how mean distance, perceived greenspace access and safety, visit frequency, and physical activity varied by deprivation quartile. Logistic regression models examined how relationships were moderated by deprivation.
Respondents in more deprived areas lived closer to greenspaces, but reported poorer perceived accessibility, poorer safety, and less frequent use. Frequency of use declined with distance but only in the most affluent areas. Relationships between physical activity and perceived accessibility, safety, and visit frequency were moderated by deprivation.
The accessibility of greenspaces was better in more deprived areas but those residents had more negative perceptions and were less likely to use the greenspaces. Interventions may be most effective if they target the perceptions and needs of residents of deprived neighbourhoods.
PMCID: PMC3748371  PMID: 19857513
Equity; deprivation; greenspace; physical activity
7.  It's not just about the park, it's about integration too: why people choose to use or not use urban greenspaces 
Greenspace has the potential to be a vital resource for promoting healthy living for people in urban areas, offering both opportunities for physical activity and wellbeing. Much research has explored the objectively measurable factors within areas to the end of explaining the role of greenspace access in continuing health inequalities. This paper explores the subjective reasons why people in urban areas choose to use, or not use, local public greenspace.
In-depth interviews with 24 people living in two areas of Glasgow, United Kingdom were conducted, supplemented with participant photography and participatory methods. Data was thematically categorised to explore subjectively experienced facilitators and barriers to greenspace use in urban areas.
From the perspective of current and potential urban greenspace users, access is revealed to be about more than the physical characteristics of neighbourhoods, greenspace resources or objectively measurable features of walkability and connectivity. Subjectively, the idea of walkability includes perceptions of social cohesion at a community level and the level of felt integration and inclusion by individuals in their communities. Individual's feelings of integration and inclusion potentially mitigate the effects of experiential barriers to urban greenspace access, such as evidence of anti-social behaviour.
We conclude that improving access to greenspace for all in urban communities will require more than providing high quality resources such as parks, footpaths, activities and lighting. Physical availability interacts with community contexts already established and a holistic understanding of access is required. A key cultural component of areas and neighbourhoods is the level of social cohesion, a factor that has the potential to reinforce existing health inequalities through shaping differentiated greenspace access between subgroups of the local population.
PMCID: PMC2978120  PMID: 21029448
8.  Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity 
Biology Letters  2007;3(4):390-394.
The world's human population is becoming concentrated into cities, giving rise to concerns that it is becoming increasingly isolated from nature. Urban public greenspaces form the arena of many people's daily contact with nature and such contact has measurable physical and psychological benefits. Here we show that these psychological benefits increase with the species richness of urban greenspaces. Moreover, we demonstrate that greenspace users can more or less accurately perceive species richness depending on the taxonomic group in question. These results indicate that successful management of urban greenspaces should emphasize biological complexity to enhance human well-being in addition to biodiversity conservation.
PMCID: PMC2390667  PMID: 17504734
urban greenspace; biodiversity; psychological well-being; Attention Restoration Theory
9.  Greenspace, urbanity and health: relationships in England 
To determine the association between the percentage of greenspace in an area and the standardised rate of self‐reported “not good” health, and to explore whether this association holds for areas exhibiting different combinations of urbanity and income deprivation.
Design and setting
Cross‐sectional, ecological study in England.
All residents of England as at the 2001 Census.
Main outcome measures
Age and sex standardised rate of reporting “not good” health status.
A higher proportion of greenspace in an area was generally associated with better population health. However, this association varied according to the combination of area income deprivation and urbanity. There was no significant association between greenspace and health in higher income suburban and higher income rural areas. In suburban lower income areas, a higher proportion of greenspace was associated with worse health.
Although, in general, higher proportion of greenspace in an area is associated with better health, the association depends on the degree of urbanity and level of income deprivation in an area. One interpretation of these analyses is that quality as well as quantity of greenspace may be significant in determining health benefits.
PMCID: PMC2652991  PMID: 17630365
10.  Does walking explain associations between access to greenspace and lower mortality? 
Social Science & Medicine (1982)  2014;107(100):9-17.
Despite emerging evidence that access to greenspace is associated with longer life expectancy, little is understood about what causal mechanisms may explain this relationship. Based on social-ecological theories of health, greenspace has multifaceted potential to influence mortality but the potential alternative mediating pathways have not been empirically tested. This study evaluates relationships between access to greenspace, walking and mortality. Firstly, we test for an association between access to greenspace and self-reported levels of walking using a survey of 165,424 adults across England collected during 2007 and 2008. Negative binomial regression multilevel models were used to examine associations between greenspace access and self reported number of days walked in the last month, in total and for recreational and health purposes, after controlling for relevant confounders. Secondly we use an area level analysis of 6781 middle super output areas across England to examine if recreational walking mediates relationships between greenspace access and reduced premature mortality from circulatory disease. Results show clear evidence of better greenspace access being associated with higher reported recreational walking. There were between 13% and 18% more days of recreational walking in the greenest quintile compared with the least green after adjustment for confounders. Tests for mediation found no evidence that recreational walking explain the associations between greenspace and mortality. Futhermore, whilst the relationship between greenspace access and walking was observed for all areas, the relationship between greenspace access and reduced mortality was only apparent in the most deprived areas. These findings indicate that the association between greenspace and mortality, if causal, may be explained by mediators other than walking, such as psychosocial factors. Future research should concentrate on understanding the causal mechanisms underlying observed associations.
•This study examines relationships between greenspace access, walking and mortality.•Better greenspace access was associated with higher levels of recreational walking.•Better greenspace access was associated with lower mortality only in deprived areas.•Walking did not meditate relationships between greenspace and mortality.
PMCID: PMC4005016  PMID: 24602966
UK; Physical activity; Walking; Greenspace; Mortality; Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
11.  Informal Urban Green-Space: Comparison of Quantity and Characteristics in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99784.
Informal urban green-space (IGS) such as vacant lots, brownfields and street or railway verges is receiving growing attention from urban scholars. Research has shown IGS can provide recreational space for residents and habitat for flora and fauna, yet we know little about the quantity, spatial distribution, vegetation structure or accessibility of IGS. We also lack a commonly accepted definition of IGS and a method that can be used for its rapid quantitative assessment. This paper advances a definition and typology of IGS that has potential for global application. Based on this definition, IGS land use percentage in central Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan was systematically surveyed in a 10×10 km grid containing 121 sampling sites of 2,500 m2 per city, drawing on data recorded in the field and aerial photography. Spatial distribution, vegetation structure and accessibility of IGS were also analyzed. We found approximately 6.3% of the surveyed urban area in Brisbane and 4.8% in Sapporo consisted of IGS, a non-significant difference. The street verge IGS type (80.4% of all IGS) dominated in Brisbane, while lots (42.2%) and gaps (19.2%) were the two largest IGS types in Sapporo. IGS was widely distributed throughout both survey areas. Vegetation structure showed higher tree cover in Brisbane, but higher herb cover in Sapporo. In both cities over 80% of IGS was accessible or partly accessible. The amount of IGS we found suggests it could play a more important role than previously assumed for residents' recreation and nature experience as well as for fauna and flora, because it substantially increased the amount of potentially available greenspace in addition to parks and conservation greenspace. We argue that IGS has potential for recreation and conservation, but poses some challenges to urban planning. To address these challenges, we propose some directions for future research.
PMCID: PMC4062477  PMID: 24941046
12.  The association between neighbourhood greenspace and type 2 diabetes in a large cross-sectional study 
BMJ Open  2014;4(12):e006076.
To investigate the relationship between neighbourhood greenspace and type 2 diabetes.
3 diabetes screening studies conducted in Leicestershire, UK in 2004–2011. The percentage of greenspace in the participant's home neighbourhood (3 km radius around home postcode) was obtained from a Land Cover Map. Demographic and biomedical variables were measured at screening.
10 476 individuals (6200 from general population; 4276 from high-risk population) aged 20–75 years (mean 59 years); 47% female; 21% non-white ethnicity.
Main outcome measure
Screen-detected type 2 diabetes (WHO 2011 criteria).
Increased neighbourhood greenspace was associated with significantly lower levels of screen-detected type 2 diabetes. The ORs (95% CI) for screen-detected type 2 diabetes were 0.97 (0.80 to 1.17), 0.78 (0.62 to 0.98) and 0.67 (0.49 to 0.93) for increasing quartiles of neighbourhood greenspace compared with the lowest quartile after adjusting for ethnicity, age, sex, area social deprivation score and urban/rural status (Ptrend=0.01). This association remained on further adjustment for body mass index, physical activity, fasting glucose, 2 h glucose and cholesterol (OR (95% CI) for highest vs lowest quartile: 0.53 (0.35 to 0.82); Ptrend=0.01).
Neighbourhood greenspace was inversely associated with screen-detected type 2 diabetes, highlighting a potential area for targeted screening as well as a possible public health area for diabetes prevention. However, none of the risk factors that we considered appeared to explain this association, and thus further research is required to elicit underlying mechanisms.
Trial registration number
This study uses data from three studies (NCT00318032, NCT00677937, NCT00941954).
PMCID: PMC4275673  PMID: 25537783
13.  The Future of Large Old Trees in Urban Landscapes 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e99403.
Large old trees are disproportionate providers of structural elements (e.g. hollows, coarse woody debris), which are crucial habitat resources for many species. The decline of large old trees in modified landscapes is of global conservation concern. Once large old trees are removed, they are difficult to replace in the short term due to typically prolonged time periods needed for trees to mature (i.e. centuries). Few studies have investigated the decline of large old trees in urban landscapes. Using a simulation model, we predicted the future availability of native hollow-bearing trees (a surrogate for large old trees) in an expanding city in southeastern Australia. In urban greenspace, we predicted that the number of hollow-bearing trees is likely to decline by 87% over 300 years under existing management practices. Under a worst case scenario, hollow-bearing trees may be completely lost within 115 years. Conversely, we predicted that the number of hollow-bearing trees will likely remain stable in semi-natural nature reserves. Sensitivity analysis revealed that the number of hollow-bearing trees perpetuated in urban greenspace over the long term is most sensitive to the: (1) maximum standing life of trees; (2) number of regenerating seedlings ha−1; and (3) rate of hollow formation. We tested the efficacy of alternative urban management strategies and found that the only way to arrest the decline of large old trees requires a collective management strategy that ensures: (1) trees remain standing for at least 40% longer than currently tolerated lifespans; (2) the number of seedlings established is increased by at least 60%; and (3) the formation of habitat structures provided by large old trees is accelerated by at least 30% (e.g. artificial structures) to compensate for short term deficits in habitat resources. Immediate implementation of these recommendations is needed to avert long term risk to urban biodiversity.
PMCID: PMC4062419  PMID: 24941258
14.  Habitat Composition and Connectivity Predicts Bat Presence and Activity at Foraging Sites in a Large UK Conurbation 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33300.
Urbanization is characterized by high levels of sealed land-cover, and small, geometrically complex, fragmented land-use patches. The extent and density of urbanized land-use is increasing, with implications for habitat quality, connectivity and city ecology. Little is known about densification thresholds for urban ecosystem function, and the response of mammals, nocturnal and cryptic taxa are poorly studied in this respect. Bats (Chiroptera) are sensitive to changing urban form at a species, guild and community level, so are ideal model organisms for analyses of this nature.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We surveyed bats around urban ponds in the West Midlands conurbation, United Kingdom (UK). Sites were stratified between five urban land classes, representing a gradient of built land-cover at the 1 km2 scale. Models for bat presence and activity were developed using land-cover and land-use data from multiple radii around each pond. Structural connectivity of tree networks was used as an indicator of the functional connectivity between habitats. All species were sensitive to measures of urban density. Some were also sensitive to landscape composition and structural connectivity at different spatial scales. These results represent new findings for an urban area. The activity of Pipistrellus pipistrellus (Schreber 1774) exhibited a non-linear relationship with the area of built land-cover, being much reduced beyond the threshold of ∼60% built surface. The presence of tree networks appears to mitigate the negative effects of urbanization for this species.
Our results suggest that increasing urban density negatively impacts the study species. This has implications for infill development policy, built density targets and the compact city debate. Bats were also sensitive to the composition and structure of the urban form at a range of spatial scales, with implications for land-use planning and management. Protecting and establishing tree networks may improve the resilience of some bat populations to urban densification.
PMCID: PMC3299780  PMID: 22428015
15.  The impact of projected increases in urbanization on ecosystem services 
Alteration in land use is likely to be a major driver of changes in the distribution of ecosystem services before 2050. In Europe, urbanization will probably be the main cause of land-use change. This increase in urbanization will result in spatial shifts in both supplies of ecosystem services and the beneficiaries of those services; the net outcome of such shifts remains to be determined. Here, we model changes in urban land cover in Britain based on large (16%) projected increases in the human population by 2031, and the consequences for three different services—flood mitigation, agricultural production and carbon storage. We show that under a scenario of densification of urban areas, the combined effect of increasing population and loss of permeable surfaces is likely to result in 1.7 million people living within 1 km of rivers with at least 10 per cent increases in projected peak flows, but that increasing suburban ‘sprawl’ will have little effect on flood mitigation services. Conversely, losses of stored carbon and agricultural production are over three times as high under the sprawl as under the ‘densification’ urban growth scenarios. Our results illustrate the challenges of meeting, but also of predicting, future demands and patterns of ecosystem services in the face of increasing urbanization.
PMCID: PMC3169018  PMID: 21389035
agricultural production; carbon storage; densification; flood risk; natural capital; urban ecology
16.  Associations between neighbourhood environmental characteristics and obesity and related behaviours among adult New Zealanders 
BMC Public Health  2014;14:553.
The prevalence of adult obesity is escalating in most wealthy and middle income countries. Due to the magnitude of this issue, research and interventions at the individual-level abound. However, the limited success and high costs of such interventions has led to a growing recognition of the potential role of environmental factors in reducing obesity and promoting physical activity and healthy diets.
This study utilised individual-level data from the 2006/7 New Zealand Health Survey on obesity, physical activity, diet and socio-economic variables linked to geographic information from other sources on potentially aetiologically-relevant environmental factors, based on the respondent’s residential address. We fitted logistic regression models for eight binary measures of weight or weight-related behaviours: 1) overweight; 2) obesity; 3) overweight + obesity; 4) active at least 30 minutes a day for 5+ days per week; 5) active <30 minutes per week; 6) walk 150 minutes + per week; 7) walk <30 minutes per week; and 8) consumption of 5+ fruits and vegetables per day. We included a range of independent environmental characteristics of interest in separate models.
We found that increased neighbourhood deprivation and decreased access to neighbourhood greenspace were both significantly associated with increased odds of overweight and/or obesity. The results for weight-related behaviours indicate that meeting the recommended level of physical activity per week was associated with urban/rural status, with higher activity in the more rural areas and a surprising tendency for less activity among those living in areas with higher levels of active travel to work. Increased access to greenspace was associated with high levels of walking, while decreased access to greenspace was associated with low levels of walking. There was also a significant trend for low levels of walking to be positively associated with neighbourhood deprivation. Results for adequate fruit and vegetable consumption show a significant urban/rural gradient, with more people meeting recommended levels in the more rural compared to more urban areas.
Similar to findings from other international studies, these results highlight greenspace as an amenable environmental factor associated with obesity/overweight and also indicate the potential benefit of targeted health promotion in both urban and deprived areas in New Zealand.
PMCID: PMC4059100  PMID: 24894572
Obesity; Built environment; Neighbourhood; New Zealand
17.  The Effect of Rural-to-Urban Migration on Obesity and Diabetes in India: A Cross-Sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000268.
Shah Ebrahim and colleagues examine the distribution of obesity, diabetes, and other cardiovascular risk factors among urban migrant factory workers in India, together with their rural siblings. The investigators identify patterns of change of cardiovascular risk factors associated with urban migration.
Migration from rural areas of India contributes to urbanisation and may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes. We tested the hypotheses that rural-to-urban migrants have a higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes than rural nonmigrants, that migrants would have an intermediate prevalence of obesity and diabetes compared with life-long urban and rural dwellers, and that longer time since migration would be associated with a higher prevalence of obesity and of diabetes.
Methods and Findings
The place of origin of people working in factories in north, central, and south India was identified. Migrants of rural origin, their rural dwelling sibs, and those of urban origin together with their urban dwelling sibs were assessed by interview, examination, and fasting blood samples. Obesity, diabetes, and other cardiovascular risk factors were compared. A total of 6,510 participants (42% women) were recruited. Among urban, migrant, and rural men the age- and factory-adjusted percentages classified as obese (body mass index [BMI] >25 kg/m2) were 41.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] 39.1–44.7), 37.8% (95% CI 35.0–40.6), and 19.0% (95% CI 17.0–21.0), respectively, and as diabetic were 13.5% (95% CI 11.6–15.4), 14.3% (95% CI 12.2–16.4), and 6.2% (95% CI 5.0–7.4), respectively. Findings for women showed similar patterns. Rural men had lower blood pressure, lipids, and fasting blood glucose than urban and migrant men, whereas no differences were seen in women. Among migrant men, but not women, there was weak evidence for a lower prevalence of both diabetes and obesity among more recent (≤10 y) migrants.
Migration into urban areas is associated with increases in obesity, which drive other risk factor changes. Migrants have adopted modes of life that put them at similar risk to the urban population. Gender differences in some risk factors by place of origin are unexpected and require further exploration.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
India, like the rest of the world, is experiencing an epidemic of diabetes, a chronic disease characterized by dangerous levels of sugar in the blood that cause cardiovascular and kidney disease, which lower life expectancy. The prevalence of diabetes (the proportion of the population with diabetes) has been increasing steadily in India over recent decades, particularly in urban areas. In 1984, only 5% of adults living in the towns and cities of India had diabetes, but by 2004, 15% of adults in urban areas were affected by diabetes. In rural areas of India, diabetes is less common than in urban areas but even here, the prevalence of diabetes is now 6%. Obesity—too much body fat—is a major risk factor for diabetes and, in parallel with the greater increase in diabetes in urban India compared to rural India, there has been a greater increase in obesity in urban areas than in rural areas.
Why Was This Study Done?
Experts think that the increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes in India (and in other developing countries) is caused in part by increased consumption of saturated fats and sugars and by reduced physical activity, and that these changes are related to urbanization—urban expansion into the countryside and migration from rural to urban areas. If living in an urban setting is a major determinant of obesity and diabetes risk, then people migrating into urban areas should acquire the high risk of the urban population for these two conditions. In this cross-sectional study (a study in which participants are studied at a single time point), the researchers investigate whether rural to urban migrants in India have a higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes than rural nonmigrants. They also ask whether migrants have a prevalence of obesity and diabetes intermediate between that of life-long urban and rural dwellers and whether a longer time since migration is associated with a higher prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited rural-urban migrants working in four Indian factories in north, central, and south regions and their spouses (if they were living in the same town) into their study. Each migrant worker and spouse asked one nonmigrant brother or sister (sibling) still living in their place of origin to join the study. The researchers also enrolled nonmigrant factory workers and their urban siblings into the study. All the participants (more than 6,500 in total) answered questions about their diet and physical activity and had their fasting blood sugar and their body mass index (BMI; weight in kg divided by height in meters squared) measured; participants with a fasting blood sugar of more than 7.0 nmol/l or a BMI of more than 25 kg/m2 were classified as diabetic or obese, respectively. 41.9% and 37.8% of the urban and migrant men, respectively, but only 19.0% of the rural men were obese. Similarly, 13.5% and 14.3% of the urban and migrant men, respectively, but only 6.2% of the rural men had diabetes. Patterns of obesity and diabetes among the women participants were similar. Finally, although the prevalence of diabetes and obesity was lower in the most recent male migrants than in those who had moved more than 10 years previously, this difference was small and not seen in women migrants.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that rural-urban migration in India is associated with rapid increases in obesity and in diabetes. They also show that the migrants have adopted modes of life (for example, reduced physical activity) that put them at a similar risk for obesity and diabetes as the urban population. The findings do not show, however, that migrants have an intermediate prevalence of obesity and diabetes compared to urban and rural dwellers and provide only weak support for the idea that a longer time since migration is associated with a higher risk of obesity and diabetes. Although the study's cross-sectional design means that the researchers could not investigate how risk factors for diabetes evolve over time, these findings suggest that urbanization is helping to drive the diabetes epidemic in India. Thus, targeting migrants and their families for health promotion activities and for treatment of risk factors for obesity and diabetes might help to slow the progress of the epidemic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The International Diabetes Federation provides information about all aspects of diabetes, including information on diabetes in Southeast Asia (in English, French, and Spanish) provides information on the Indian Task Forces on diabetes care in India
Diabetes Foundation (India) has an international collaborative research focus and provides information about health promotion for diabetes; it has also produced consensus guidelines on dietary change for prevention of diabetes in India
The US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides detailed information about diabetes for patients, health care professionals, and the general public (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources and advice about diabetes (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2860494  PMID: 20436961
18.  Combining GPS, GIS, and accelerometry to explore the physical activity and environment relationship in children and young people – a review 
The environment has long been associated with physical activity engagement, and recent developments in technology have resulted in the ability to objectively quantify activity behaviours and activity context. This paper reviews studies that have combined Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and accelerometry to investigate the PA-environment relationship in children and young people (5–18 years old). Literature searches of the following bibliographic databases were undertaken: Sportdiscus, Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Psychinfo and Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts (ASSIA). Fourteen studies met the inclusion criteria, and covered topics including greenspace use, general land use, active travel, and the built environment. Studies were largely cross-sectional and took place across developed countries (UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia). Findings suggest that roads and streets, school grounds, and the home location are important locations for total PA, and moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA). The relationship between greenspace was positive, however, multiple definitions and outcome measures add complexity to the results. MVPA was more likely in those exposed to higher levels of greenspace compared to sedentary individuals. Total MVPA time in greenspace is low, but when framed as a proportion of the total can be quite high. Domestic gardens may be an important area for higher intensity activity.
Researchers are encouraged to show transparency in their methods. As a relatively new area of research, with ever-evolving technology, future work is best placed in developing novel, but robust, methods to investigate the PA and environment relationship. Further descriptive work is encouraged to build on a small but increasing knowledge base; however, longitudinal studies incorporating seasonal/weather variation would also be extremely beneficial to elicit some of the nuances associated with land use. A greater understanding of geographic variation (i.e. within and between countries), as well as urban/suburban and rural dwelling is welcomed, and future work should also include the investigation of psycho-social health as an outcome, as well as differences in socio-economic status, sex and adiposity.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12966-014-0093-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4172984  PMID: 25356782
Physical activity; Global Positioning System (GPS); Geographic Information System (GIS); Accelerometer; Environment; Children; Young people
19.  Modelling carbon dynamics from urban land conversion: fundamental model of city in relation to a local carbon cycle 
The main task is to estimate the qualitative and quantitative contribution of urban territories and precisely of the process of urbanization to the Global Carbon Cycle (GCC). Note that, on the contrary to many investigations that have considered direct anthropogenic emission of CO2(urbanized territories produce ca. 96–98% of it), we are interested in more subtle, and up until the present time, weaker processes associated with the conversion of the surrounding natural ecosystems and landscapes into urban lands. Such conversion inevitably takes place when cities are sprawling and additional "natural" lands are becoming "urbanized".
In order to fulfil this task, we first develop a fundamental model of urban space, since the type of land cover within a city makes a difference for a local carbon cycle. Hence, a city is sub-divided by built-up, „green" (parks, etc.) and informal settlements (favelas) fractions. Another aspect is a sub-division of the additional two regions, which makes the total number reaching eight regions, while the UN divides the world by six. Next, the basic model of the local carbon cycle for urbanized territories is built. We consider two processes: carbon emissions as a result of conversion of natural lands caused by urbanization; and the transformation of carbon flows by "urbanized" ecosystems; when carbon, accumulated by urban vegetation, is exported to the neighbouring territories. The total carbon flow in the model depends, in general, on two groups of parameters. The first includes the NPP, and the sum of living biomass and dead organic matter of ecosystems involved in the process of urbanization, and namely them we calculate here, using a new more realistic approach and taking into account the difference in regional cities' evolution.
There is also another group of parameters, dealing with the areas of urban territories, and their annual increments. A method of dynamic forecasting of these parameters, based on the statistical regression model, was already suggested; nevertheless we shall further develop a new technique based on one idea to use the gamma-distribution. This will allow us to calculate the total carbon balance and to show how urbanization shifts it.
PMCID: PMC1562420  PMID: 16930464
20.  Regional Assessment of Urban Impacts on Landcover and Open Space Finds a Smart Urban Growth Policy Performs Little Better than Business as Usual 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65258.
Assessment of landscape change is critical for attainment of regional sustainability goals. Urban growth assessments are needed because over half the global population now lives in cities, which impact biodiversity, ecosystem structure and ecological processes. Open space protection is needed to preserve these attributes, and provide the resources humans need. The San Francisco Bay Area, California, is challenged to accommodate a population increase of 3.07 million while maintaining the region’s ecosystems and biodiversity. Our analysis of 9275 km2 in the Bay Area links historic trends for three measures: urban growth, protected open space, and landcover types over the last 70 years to future 2050 projections of urban growth and open space. Protected open space totaled 348 km2 (3.7% of the area) in 1940, and expanded to 2221 km2 (20.2%) currently. An additional 1038 km2 of protected open space is targeted (35.1%). Urban area historically increased from 396.5 km2 to 2239 km2 (24.1% of the area). Urban growth during this time mostly occurred at the expense of agricultural landscapes (62.9%) rather than natural vegetation. Smart Growth development has been advanced as a preferred alternative in many planning circles, but we found that it conserved only marginally more open space than Business-as-usual when using an urban growth model to portray policies for future urban growth. Scenarios to 2050 suggest urban development on non-urban lands of 1091, 956, or 179 km2, under Business-as-usual, Smart Growth and Infill policy growth scenarios, respectively. The Smart Growth policy converts 88% of natural lands and agriculture used by Business-as-usual, while Infill used only 40% of those lands. Given the historic rate of urban growth, 0.25%/year, and limited space available, the Infill scenario is recommended. While the data may differ, the use of an historic and future framework to track these three variables can be easily applied to other metropolitan areas.
PMCID: PMC3673918  PMID: 23755204
21.  Environmental supportiveness for physical activity in English schoolchildren: a study using Global Positioning Systems 
There is increasing evidence that the environment plays a role in influencing physical activity in children and adults. As children have less autonomy in their behavioural choices, neighbourhood environment supportiveness may be an important determinant of their ability to be active. Yet we know rather little about the types of environment that children use for bouts of physical activity. This study uses accelerometery and global positioning system technologies to identify the charactieristics of environments being used for bouts of continuous moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in a sample of English schoolchildren.
The study used a convenience sample of 100 children from SPEEDY (Sport, Physical activity and Eating behaviour: Environmental Determinants in Young people), a cohort of 2064 9–10 year-olds from Norfolk, England, recruited in 2007. Children wore an ActiGraph GT1M accelerometer and a Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS unit over four consecutive days. Accelerometery data points were matched to GPS locations and bouts (5 minutes or more) of MVPA were identified. Bout locations were overlaid with a detailed landcover dataset developed in a GIS to identify the types of environment supporting MVPA. Findings are presented using descriptive statistics.
Boys were also more active than girls, spending an average of 20 (SD 23) versus 11 (SD 15) minutes per day in MVPA bouts. Children who spent more time outside the home were more active (p = 0.002), especially girls and children living in rural locations (both p < 0.05). Children tended to be active close to home, with 63% of all bout time occurring inside neighbourhoods, although boys (p = 0.05) and rural children (p = 0.01) were more likely to roam outside their neighbourhood. Amongst urban children, gardens (28% of bout time) and the street environment (20%) were the most commonly used environments for MVPA bouts. Amongst rural children farmland (22%) and grassland (18%) were most frequently used.
The study has developed a new methodology for the identification of environments in which bouts of continuous physical activity are undertaken. The results highlight the importance of the provision of urban gardens and greenspaces, and the maintenance of safe street environments as places for children to be active.
PMCID: PMC2729291  PMID: 19615073
22.  The “sowing of concrete”: Peri-urban smallholder perceptions of rural–urban land change in the Central Peruvian Andes☆ 
Land Use Policy  2014;38:239-247.
•A set of 20 perceptions toward rural–urban land change is inductively determined.•Six major impacts of urbanization on peri-urban smallholders are identified.•Service and infrastructure improvements are highlighted by more modernist groups.•Urbanization is negatively perceived by traditionalist smallholder communities.•Perceived income insecurity leads to adaptation of land use on steep slopes.
Policy makers concerned with the peri-urban interface find their greatest challenges in the rapid urban growth of developing mountain regions, since limitations caused by relief and altitude often lead to an increased competition between rural and urban land use at the valley floors. In this context, little attention has been paid to the affected agriculturalists’ perceptions of peri-urban growth—important information required for the realization of sustainable land use planning. How is the process of rural–urban land change perceived and assessed by peri-urban smallholder communities? Which are the major difficulties to be overcome? By what means are the affected people reacting and how are these adaptation strategies linked with the ongoing landscape transformations of the hinterland?
By using the example of Huancayo Metropolitano, an emerging Peruvian mountain city, it is shown that rural–urban land change is intensively discussed within peri-urban smallholder groups. Although urbanization also leads to infrastructure investments by public institutions—an advantage perceived throughout the study area—the negative impacts of rural–urban land use change prevail. The perceptions’ analysis reveals that the decrease of fertile and irrigated agricultural land at the quechua valley floor is especially considered to threaten subsistence, food and income security. In order to compensate the loss of production capacities, many smallholders try to expand or intensify their land use at the suni altitudinal belt: an agro-ecological zone characterized by steep and nonirrigated slopes that can actually not be used for the year-round production of crops previously cultivated at the quechua zone.
PMCID: PMC4375667  PMID: 25844006
Environmental perception; Peri-urban growth; Landscape change; Mountain agriculture; Central Andes; Peru
23.  Open Space Loss and Land Inequality in United States' Cities, 1990–2000 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9509.
Urban growth reduces open space in and around cities, impacting biodiversity and ecosystem services. Using land-cover and population data, we examined land consumption and open space loss between 1990 and 2000 for all 274 metropolitan areas in the contiguous United States. Nationally, 1.4 million ha of open space was lost, and the amount lost in a given city was correlated with population growth (r(272) = 0.85, P<0.001). In 2000, cities varied in per capita land consumption by an order of magnitude, from 459 m2/person in New York to 5393 m2/person in Grand Forks, ND. The per capita land consumption (m2/person) of most cities decreased on average over the decade from 1,564 to 1,454 m 2/person, but there was substantial regional variation and some cities even increased. Cities with greater conservation funding or more reform-minded zoning tended to decrease in per capita land consumption more than other cities. The majority of developed area in cities is in low-density neighborhoods housing a small proportion of urban residents, with Gini coefficients that quantify this developed land inequality averaging 0.63. Our results suggest conservation funding and reform-minded zoning decrease per capita open space loss.
PMCID: PMC2831069  PMID: 20209082
24.  The scaling of green space coverage in European cities 
Biology Letters  2009;5(3):352-355.
Most people on the planet live in dense aggregations, and policy directives emphasize green areas within cities to ameliorate some of the problems of urban living. Benefits of urban green spaces range from physical and psychological health to social cohesion, ecosystem service provision and biodiversity conservation. Green space coverage differs enormously among cities, yet little is known about the correlates or geography of this variation. This is important because urbanization is accelerating and the consequences for green space are unclear. Here, we use standardized major axis regression to explore the relationships between urban green space coverage, city area and population size across 386 European cities. We show that green space coverage increases more rapidly than city area, yet declines only weakly as human population density increases. Thus, green space provision within a city is primarily related to city area rather than the number of inhabitants that it serves, or a simple space-filling effect. Thus, compact cities (small size and high density) show very low per capita green space allocation. However, at high levels of urbanicity, the green space network is robust to further city compaction. As cities grow, interactions between people and nature depend increasingly on landscape quality outside formal green space networks, such as street plantings, or the size, composition and management of backyards and gardens.
PMCID: PMC2679924  PMID: 19324636
urban green space; scaling; human population density
25.  Vivid valleys, pallid peaks? Hypsometric variations and rural–urban land change in the Central Peruvian Andes 
What happens to the land cover within the hinterland's altitudinal belts while Central Andean cities are undergoing globalization and urban restructuring? What conclusions can be drawn about changes in human land use? By incorporating a regional altitudinal zonation model, direct field observations and GIS analyses of remotely sensed long term data, the present study examines these questions using the example of Huancayo Metropolitano – an emerging Peruvian mountain city of 420,000 inhabitants, situated at 3260 m asl in the Mantaro Valley.
The study's results indicate that rapid urban growth during the late 1980s and early 1990s was followed by the agricultural intensification and peri-urban condominization at the valley floor (quechua) – since the beginning of Peru's neoliberal era. Moreover, regarding the adjoining steep slopes (suni) and subsequent grassland ecosystems (puna), the research output presents land cover change trajectories that clearly show an expansion of human land use, such as reforestation for wood production and range burning for livestock grazing, even at high altitudes – despite rural–urban migration trends and contrary to several results of extra-Andean studies.
Consequently, rural–urban planners and policy makers are challenged to focus on the manifold impacts of globalization on human land use – at all altitudinal belts of the Andean city's hinterland: toward sustainable mountain development that bridges the social and physical gaps – from the bottom up.
► Huancayo Metropolitano's hinterland is undergoing major land cover change. ► Agricultural intensification follows rapid urban growth since the mid-1990s. ► Increasing activities of human land use reach to high-altitude puna grasslands. ► High-altitude zones need to be integrated into urban and peri-urban planning.
PMCID: PMC3617625  PMID: 23564987
Landscape change; Altitudinal belts; Globalization; Mountain cities; Central Andes; Peru

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