Using structural equation modelling to explore the pathways linking the neighbourhood built environment and child body size: a cross-sectional study

Mrs Victoria Egli1, Dr Matthew Hobbs2, Dr Jordan Carlson3, Dr Lisa Mackay4, Dr Niamh Donnellan1, Dr Caryn Zinn4, Dr Karen Villaneuva5, Associate Professor Melody Smith1

1The University Of Auckland, School of Nursing, New Zealand,

2The University of Cantebury, Christchurch, New Zealand,

3Center for Children’s Healthy Lifestyles & Nutrition, Children’s Mercy Kansas City, USA

4Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand,

5RMIT, Melbourne, Australia


Built environments have been shown to influence health behaviours and may specifically encourage children’s consumption of unhealthy food and drinks and inhibit physical activity. While intuitively appealing, evidence linking built environment factors to body size is inconsistent. Exploratory structural equation modelling (SEM) is therefore useful to understand the explanatory pathways linking neighbourhood built environments to child body size and to determine the most appropriate theoretical approach for use in the New Zealand context. The objectives are to first, assess associations between the physical activity and nutrition built environment with child body size, adjusting for the potential mediating influences of physical activity and diet. Second to use SEM to explore the most appropriate theoretical approach for use in future studies in New Zealand. Data from a cross-sectional study of 1029 children, residing in Auckland, New Zealand was used. Associations between built environment features and objectively measured body size, through the pathways of diet and physical activity, were investigated using structural equation modelling in Mplus v.8.0. Exploratory analysis is currently being conducted to determine if controlling for area-level deprivation and residential and retail density at different locations in the model will provide alternative results and result in improved model fit.


Victoria has a background in nursing and public health. Her PhD focused on neighbourhood built environments and their impact on child health outcomes. On the 1st of May she will take up a position as a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Nursing, at the University of Auckland continuing to research children’s neighbourhoods.

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