Gender differences in the relationship between built environment and non-communicable diseases: A systematic review

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Joanna Sara Valson *
V. Raman Kutty
(*) Corresponding Author:
Joanna Sara Valson |


Non-communicable diseases are on the rise globally. Risk factors of non-communicable diseases continue to be a growing concern in both developed and developing countries. With significant rise in population and establishment of buildings, rapid changes have taken place in the built environment. Relationship between health and place, particularly with non-communicable diseases has been established in previous literature. This systematic review assesses the current evidence on influence of gender in the relationship between built environment and non-communicable diseases. A systematic literature search using PubMed was done to identify all studies that reported relationship between gender and built environment. All titles and abstracts were scrutinised to include only articles based on risk factors, prevention, treatment and outcome of non-communicable diseases. The Gender Analysis Matrix developed by the World Health Organization was used to describe the findings of gender differences. Sex differences, biological susceptibility, gender norms/ values, roles and activities related to gender and access to/control over resources were themes for the differences in the relationship. A total of 15 out of 214 articles met the inclusion criteria. Majority of the studies were on risk factors of non-communicable diseases, particularly cardiovascular diseases. Gender differences in physical access to recreational facilities, neighbourhood perceptions of safety and walkability have been documented. Men and women showed differential preferences to walking, engaging in physical activity and in perceiving safety of the neighbourhood. Girls and boys showed differences in play activities at school and in their own neighbourhood environment. Safety from crime and safety from traffic were also perceived important to engage in physical activity. Gender norms and gender roles and activities have shown basis for the differences in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases. Sparse evidence was found on how built environment affects health seeking behaviour, preventive options or experience with health providers. Though yet unexplored in the developing or low/middle income countries, there seems to be a major role in the gendered perception of how men and women are affected by noncommunicable diseases. Large gaps still exist in the research evidence on gender-based differences in non-communicable diseases and built environment relationship. Future research directions could bring out underpinnings of how perceived and objective built environment could largely affect the health behaviour of men and women across the globe.

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