The first stage of the ENABLE London project, which is studying the effect of the living environment on people’s activity levels and bodies, has been outlined today in a paper published in BMJ Open.

calendar-icon 28 October 2016

The project, led by researchers at St George's, University of London, focuses on the East Village in E20 – the former London 2012 Olympics Athletes' Village. East Village provides an ideal 'natural experiment' to see if populations living in accommodation specifically designed to encourage healthy living will in fact become more active. 

The study provides a unique opportunity, the findings from which could help to inform future urban residential housing developments. The project is being supported by grants from the Medical Research Council National Prevention Research Initiative and the National Institute for Health Research.

Participants for the ENABLE project (Examining Neighbourhood Activities in Built Living Environments in London) were recruited between January 2013 and December 2015 from applicants wanting to live in East Village, a site of well-designed public housing with specific features to encourage physical activity. Those who were not successful in their application and remained in their place of origin or moved elsewhere were recruited as the control population. Occupants of social, intermediate and market rent accommodation were included to allow the study to examine the effects of the environment on individuals from widely differing social origins.

In total, 1,497 participants from 1,006 households in Newham and Greater London have now been recruited. Assessments of physical activity and body composition are being carried out and participant questionnaires are being completed.

Two year follow up of those in social housing is largely complete, with 62% participation and where 57% have moved to East Village. Follow up of those seeking intermediate and market rent accommodation will continue to December 2017.

Professor Christopher Owen of St George’s, University of London is leading the project. He said: "This is a great opportunity to see if this kind of design for healthy living - which is being replicated in cities all over the world - is doing what we all hope it will."

East Village was created with specific features designed to encourage physical activity, including improving access to open land and parkland, excellent transport links and active travel options including extensive walking and cycling paths. Design features of the local environment included pedestrianised space, public space aesthetics and secure bicycle parking, along with the provision of new formal cycling and walking facilities in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park such as the VeloPark. 

Professor Owen said: "Our initial assessment of the focus groups in social housing show that participants in the East Village are enjoying the space. They are commenting on how it is a clean and safe environment which is encouraging more activity, but time will show whether that does translate into healthier behaviours."

Read the paper on BMJ Open.