Publication Date



Background Inconsistencies in research findings on the impact of the built environment on walking across the life course may be methodologically driven. Commonly used methods to define ‘neighbourhood’, from which built environment variables are measured, may not accurately represent the spatial extent to which the behaviour in question occurs. This paper aims to provide new methods for spatially defining ‘neighbourhood’ based on how people use their surrounding environment. Results Informed by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) tracking data, several alternative neighbourhood delineation techniques were examined (i.e., variable width, convex hull and standard deviation buffers). Compared with traditionally used buffers (i.e., circular and polygon network), differences were found in built environment characteristics within the newly created ‘neighbourhoods’. Model fit statistics indicated that exposure measures derived from alternative buffering techniques provided a better fit when examining the relationship between land-use and walking for transport or leisure. Conclusions This research identifies how changes in the spatial extent from which built environment measures are derived may influence walking behaviour. Buffer size and orientation influences the relationship between built environment measures and walking for leisure in older adults. The use of GPS data proved suitable for re-examining operational definitions of neighbourhood.


Institute for Health and Ageing

Document Type

Open Access Journal Article

Access Rights

Open Access


© 2012 Boruff et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the CreativeCommons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, andreproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.