Background: Urban form interventions can result in positive and negative impacts on physical activity, social participation, and well-being, and inequities in these outcomes. Natural experiment studies can advance our understanding of causal effects and processes related to urban form interventions. The INTErventions, Research, and Action in Cities Team (INTERACT) is a pan-Canadian collaboration of interdisciplinary scientists, urban planners, and public health decision makers advancing research on the design of healthy and sustainable cities for all. Our objectives are to use natural experiment studies to deliver timely evidence about how urban form interventions influence health, and to develop methods and tools to facilitate such studies going forward.
Methods: INTERACT will evaluate natural experiments in four Canadian cities: the Arbutus Greenway in Vancouver, British Columbia; the All Ages and Abilities Cycling Network in Victoria, BC; a new Bus Rapid Transit system in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and components of the Sustainable Development Plan 2016–2020 in Montreal, Quebec, a plan that includes urban form changes initiated by the city and approximately 230 partnering organizations. We will recruit a cohort of between 300 and 3000 adult participants, age 18 or older, in each city and collect data at three time points. Participants will complete health and activity space surveys and provide sensor-based location and physical activity data. We will conduct qualitative interviews with a subsample of participants in each city. Our analysis methods will combine machine learning methods for detecting transportation mode use and physical activity, use temporal Geographic Information Systems to quantify changes to urban intervention exposure, and apply analytic methods for natural experiment studies including interrupted time series analysis.
Discussion: INTERACT aims to advance the evidence base on population health intervention research and address challenges related to big data, knowledge mobilization and engagement, ethics, and causality. We will collect ~ 100 TB of sensor data from participants over 5 years. We will address these challenges using interdisciplinary partnerships, training of highly qualified personnel, and modern methodologies for using sensor-based data.
Kestens Y, Winters M, Fuller D, Bell S, Berscheid J, Brondeel R, Cantinotti M, Datta G, Gauvin L, Gough M, Laberee K, Lewis P, Lord S, Luan H, McKay H, Morency C, Muhajarine N, Nelson T, Ottoni C, Poirier Stephens Z, Pugh C, Rancourt G, Shareck M, Sims-Gould J, Sones M, Stanley K, Thierry B, Thigpen C, Wasfi R. INTERACT: A comprehensive approach to assess urban form interventions through natural experiments. BMC Public Health. 2019;19(1):51. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-6339-z.