Urbanization and health: The effects of the built environment on chronic disease risk factors among women in Tanzania

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Article (peer-reviewed)

Publication Date



Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing rapid urban growth. Cities enable greater access to health services and improved water and sanitation infrastructure, leading to some improvements in health. However, urban settings may also be associated with more sedentary, stressful lifestyles and consumption of less nutritious food. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a measure of chronic inflammation predictive of cardiovascular disease, and high body mass index (BMI), a ratio of weight to height, indicates overweight or obesity and is associated with an increased risk of many chronic diseases. To explore the association between urbanicity and these two markers, we overlaid data from the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) with a satellite-derived measure of built environment. Linear regression models were constructed for the outcomes of BMI and CRP, by 1) administratively defined urban/rural categorization from the DHS, 2) satellite derived built environment, and 3) built environment stratified by urban/rural. A total of 2,212 women were included; 23% had elevated CRP, 21% were overweight or obese. A third (33%) lived in a highly built up area and 29% lived in an area classified as urban. A strong positive association between both CRP and BMI and built environment was detected; log CRP increased 0.43 in the highest built up areas compared to not built up (p < 0.05); log BMI increased 0.02 in the most built up areas compared to not built up (p < 0.05). However, comparing urban to rural category was only significant in unadjusted models. Models stratified by urban/rural category highlight that the variation in CRP and BMI by built environment is mainly driven by rural areas; within urban areas there is less variation. Our findings highlight the potential negative effects of urbanicity on chronic disease markers, with potentially more change detected for those transitioning from rural to urban lifestyles. Satellite-derived urbanicity measures are reproducible and provide more nuanced understanding of effects of built environment on health.