Continuing our partnership with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to study how urban built environments influence health during pregnancy we recently published research showing that higher neighborhood walkability is associated with lower risk of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes (GD) is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and in 2020 was diagnosed in 7.8% of pregnancies in the United States. GD increases infants’ risk for being large for gestational age, may increase risk of unhealthy weight gain during childhood, and increases the pregnant individual’s risk for future type 2 diabetes. Physical activity prior to and during pregnancy are associated with lower risk of GD and data suggest that even light physical activity and walking have protective effects.
The analyses included data from 109,863 births recorded in NYC in 2015, and 7.5% of pregnant individuals in the data set experienced GD. We measured walkability using our Neighborhood Walkability Index and using the Density of Walkable Destinations (see here) for 1Km radius circular areas around the residential Census block of the pregnant individuals. Risk of GD was significantly lower (RR = 0.81) for pregnant individuals living in neighborhoods in the fourth and compared to the 1st quartile of Neighborhood Walkability Index score and was significantly lower (RR = 0.77) for pregnant individuals living in neighborhoods in the 4th compared to the 1st quartile of Density of Walkable Destinations.
Given the long-lasting benefits of healthy pregnancies for the parent and the child, this research motivates the use of urban design to support healthy pregnancies. If further research replicates the findings presented here, supporting healthy pregnancies should be factored into cost-benefit analyses of built environment interventions to create walkable neighborhoods.