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Children’s neighbourhood physical environment and early development: an individual child level linked data study
  1. Megan F Bell1,
  2. Gavin Turrell2,3,
  3. Bridget Beesley4,
  4. Bryan Boruff4,
  5. Gina Trapp1,5,
  6. Stephen R Zubrick1,6,
  7. Hayley E Christian1,5
  1. 1 Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  2. 2 Healthy Liveable Cities Group, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 Centre for Research and Action in Public Health, Health Research Institute, University of Canberra, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
  4. 4 School of Agriculture and Environment, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  5. 5 School of Population and Global Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  6. 6 Centre for Child Health Research, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Megan F Bell, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA 6872, Australia; megan.bell{at}


Background Identification of features of the neighbourhood physical environment that have a causal association with positive child development is important for promoting long-term developmental health. Previous research on these associations have been conducted at the neighbourhood level, and do not account for individual variation in exposure to these features.

Methods This cross-sectional study utilised de-identified linked administrative data. Neighbourhood features were measured with Geographic Information Systems and identified within a 1600 m service area around the child’s home address. The study population included a random selection of 5024 Western Australian children who participated in the 2012 Australian Early Development Census (AEDC; median age 5 years, 5 months). Multi-level logistic regressions modelled the odds of children scoring in the bottom 10% on the physical, social or emotional AEDC domains as an outcome of neighbourhood features.

Results After adjustment for individual and neighbourhood sociodemographic factors, lower odds of physical vulnerability were associated with increased neighbourhood residential density, presence of railway station, and higher counts of playgroups and kindergartens. Larger areas of neighbourhood home-yard space were associated with increased odds of physical and social vulnerability. Presence of high-quality green spaces was associated with lower odds of social vulnerability. Increased road traffic exposure was associated with higher odds of social and emotional vulnerability.

Conclusions The neighbourhood physical environment has a weak but significant association with early childhood development. Future research should consider the interplay between the neighbourhood environment and proximal influences, including parenting attributes and socioeconomic status, and how they influence early child development.

  • GIS
  • lifecourse/childhood circumstances
  • neighborhood/place
  • public health
  • record linkage

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  • Contributors HEC devised the idea and designed the study with MFB. MFB conducted data cleaning and preliminary analyses, and G Turrell conducted the multilevel analyses. B Beesley prepared the GIS data. MFB prepared the manuscript with input from HEC, G Turrell, B Boruff, G Trapp and SRZ. All authors approved the final manuscript as submitted.

  • Funding This work was supported by a University of Western Australia Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Science Near miss grant (#2013_NHMRC_APP1060123) and a University of Western Australia Near Miss Central Scheme (#2014_NHMRC_APP1080162).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval for this study was granted by the Western Australian Department of Health

    Human Research Ethics Committee and The University of Western Australian Human

    Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Australian Early Development Census data can be obtained via micro-data application and payment of a fee to the Social Research Centre Australia, at Built environment data can be obtained from Associate Professor Christian and will incur a fee. It will not be possible to obtain the exact study population under analysis in this study as they were randomly selected by a third party, and identifying information for individuals was not included.