Life Expectancy and Built Environments in the U.S. A Multilevel Analysis

Byoungjun Kim, Ben R. Spoer, Andrea R. Titus, Alexander Chen, George D. Thurston, Marc N. Gourevitch, Lorna E. Thorpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The purpose of this study is to examine the associations between built environments and life expectancy across a gradient of urbanicity in the U.S. Methods: Census tract‒level estimates of life expectancy between 2010 and 2015, except for Maine and Wisconsin, from the U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project were analyzed in 2022. Tract-level measures of the built environment included: food, alcohol, and tobacco outlets; walkability; park and green space; housing characteristics; and air pollution. Multilevel linear models for each of the 4 urbanicity types were fitted to evaluate the associations, adjusting for population and social characteristics. Results: Old housing (built before 1979) and air pollution were important built environment predictors of life expectancy disparities across all gradients of urbanicity. Convenience stores were negatively associated with life expectancy in all urbanicity types. Healthy food options were a positive predictor of life expectancy only in high-density urban areas. Park accessibility was associated with increased life expectancy in all areas, except rural areas. Green space in neighborhoods was positively associated with life expectancy in urban areas but showed an opposite association in rural areas. Conclusions: After adjusting for key social characteristics, several built environment characteristics were salient risk factors for decreased life expectancy in the U.S., with some measures showing differential effects by urbanicity. Planning and policy efforts should be tailored to local contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-476
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of preventive medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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