Impact of Zoning Code Reforms on the Built Environment and Physical Activity Behaviors


Zoning code reforms have emerged throughout the U.S. as a potential policy strategy for reducing sprawl, decreasing reliance on cars, and increasing opportunities for physical activity (PA). Code reforms seek to create pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with increased street connectivity, mixed-use and higher density, open space, transportation infrastructure, and a traditional neighborhood structure. The reforms have been adopted by communities in at least 35 states, with the number of communities considering such reforms increasing regularly. Such reforms have predominantly been adopted in the 2000s, and the reforms are more oriented to active living than traditional zoning codes, which are concerned with land use.

This project addresses the potential impact of community-level intervention via zoning code reforms on the community environment and behaviors related to physical activity.

Specifically, we plan to use multilevel multivariate regression, structural equation modeling and mediation analyses to link zoning code reform policies obtained from communities representing 75% of the US population with:

  • Parks/green space (compiled using ArcGIS and US Geological Survey)
  • Sprawl/street connectivity and traffic safety using Census Tiger files
  • Population density and neighborhood disadvantage using ACS data
  • Pedestrian fatalities using data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)
  • Behaviors related to physical activity obtained from the 2009-2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the 2009-2012 American Community Survey

Analyses will account for the moderating impact of community demographic/SES characteristics obtained from the Census, will include state clustering, and will control for policy lag effects, state enabling laws, year, state fixed effects, household and individual-level demographic/SES characteristics, county-level and individual level obesity from BRFSS, and county health rankings from the University of Wisconsin. Supplemental analyses of endogeneity among the community environment and PA behaviors will include comparison of the 2009 data with data from the 2000/2001 time frame as well as examination of correlated errors.

At the conclusion of this study, we will provide counties and municipalities nationwide as well as the active living, public health, urban planning, and transportation fields with the needed evidence to determine the extent to which code reforms may help them achieve more active living-oriented physical environments and higher levels of PA/active living.

Research Product(s)

Image of poster presented by Dr. Jamie Chriqui and colleagues at the Active Living Research Conference 2016.Chriqui JF, Thrun E, Lieder J. Complete streets policies: assessing equity in policy adoption, active travel to work, and policy content. Poster presented at: The Annual Active Living Research Conference; February 2016; Clearwater Beach, Florida. [View the poster (PDF).]

See also Creating Walkable Communities through Zoning Regulations: Best Practices.

Funding Agency

National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (Grant No. R01 CA158035)


Principal investigator
Jamie F. Chriqui, PhD, MHS

Lisa M. Nicholson, PhD
Sandy J. Slater, PhD

Start date
End date
Total award
About this grant

The NCI grant supporting this research was extended one year with no additional money.

Related publications

See publications supported by this grant on this PubMed list.

Leider J, Chriqui JF, Thrun E. Associations between active living-oriented zoning and no adult leisure-time physical activity in the U.S. Prev Med. 2017 Feb;95S:S120-S125. [See abstract.]

Thrun E, Leider J, Chriqui JF. Exploring the cross-sectional association between transit-oriented development zoning and active travel and transit usage in the United States, 2010-2014. Front Pub Health. Front Public Health. 2016 Jun 3;4:113.

Slater SJ, Nicholson L, Zayd HA, Chriqui JF. Does pedestrian danger mediate the relationship between local walkability and active travel to work? Front Public Health. 2016 May 9;4:89. [See abstract.]

Chriqui JF, Leider J, Thrun E, Nicholson L, Slater S. Communities on the move: Pedestrian-oriented zoning as a facilitator of adult active travel to work in the United States. Front Public Health. 2016 Apr 18;4:71. [See abstract.]

Chriqui JF, Nicholson LM, Thrun E, Leider J, Slater SJ. More active living–oriented county and municipal zoning is associated with increased adult leisure time physical activity—United States, 2011. Environ Behav. 2016;48(1):111-130. [See abstract.]

Nicholson LM, Turner L, Slater SJ, Abuzayd H, Chriqui JF, Chaloupka F. Developing a measure of traffic calming associated with elementary school students' active transport. Transp Res D Transp Environ. 2014;33:17-25. [See abstract.]

Chriqui JF. Obesity prevention policies in U.S. states and localities: lessons from the field. Curr Obes Rep. 2013;2(3):200-210. [See abstract.]