The built environment and child health: an overview of current evidence

Mireia Gascon
Martine Vrijheid
Mark Nieuwenhuijsen


Urbanization and the shaping of the built environment have provided a number of socioeconomic benefits, but they have also brought unwanted side effects on health. We aimed to review the current epidemiological evidence of the associations between the built environment, closely related exposures, and child health. We focused on growth and obesity, neuropsychological development, and respiratory and immune health. We used existing review articles and supplemented these with relevant work published and not included in existing reviews. The present review shows that there is good evidence for an association between air pollution and fetal growth restriction and respiratory health, whereas for other exposure and outcome combinations, further evidence is needed. Future studies should make efforts to integrate the different built environment features and to include the evaluation of environments other than home, as well as accessibility, qualitative and perception assessment of the built environment, and, if possible, with improved and standardized tools to facilitate comparability between studies. Efforts are also needed to conduct longitudinal and intervention studies and to understand potential mechanisms behind the associations observed. Finally, studies in low- and middle-income countries are needed.