Lexical neutrality in environmental health research: Reflections on the term walkability

09 Dec 2017

Abstract Neighbourhood environments have important implications for human health. In this piece, we reflect on the environments and health literature and argue that precise use of language is critical for acknowledging the complex and multifaceted influence that neighbourhood environments may have on physical activity and physical activity-related outcomes. Specifically, we argue that the term “neighbourhood walkability”, commonly used in the neighbourhoods and health literature, constrains recognition of the breadth of influence that neighbourhood environments might have on a variety of physical activity behaviours. The term draws attention to a single type of physical activity and implies that a universal association exists when in fact the literature is quite mixed. To maintain neutrality in this area of research, we suggest that researchers adopt the term “neighbourhood physical activity environments” for collective measures of neighbourhood attributes that they wish to study in relation to physical activity behaviours or physical activity-related health outcomes.