Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Inas Rashad Kelly

Second Advisor

Dr. James H. Marton

Third Advisor

Dr. Jonathan C. Rork

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Cynthia S. Searcy

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Mary Beth Walker


The dissertation investigates how individual behaviors and health outcomes interplay with surrounding built environments, in three essays. We conceptually focus on travel behaviors and accessibility.

In the first essay, we hypothesize that urban sprawl increases requisite travel time which limits leisure time available as inputs to health production. We utilize the American Time Use Survey to quantify decreases in health-related activity participation due to commuting time. We identify significant evidence of trade-offs between commuting time and exercise, food preparation, and sleep behaviors, which exceed labor time trade-offs on a per-minute basis. Longer commutes are additionally associated with an increased likelihood of non-grocery food purchases and substitution into less strenuous exercise activities. We also utilize daily metropolitan traffic accidents as instruments which exogenously lengthen a particular day’s commute.

The second essay tests whether the likelihood of food insecurity and “paradoxical” joint insecurity-obesity occurrences vary over the degree of urban sprawl. We utilize data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System’s Social Context Module merged with urban sprawl measures developed by Smart Growth America. We find significantly negative associations between urban sprawl and the likelihood of food insecurity, and that insecurity is more likely in areas of less developed street connectivity. We find that joint outcomes are more likely in less sprawled areas and that likelihood is greater in areas of greater street connectivity, which fails to support theories proposing that healthy food inaccessibility is a determinant of joint outcomes.

The third essay evaluates research claims that walking and cycling to school increases students’ physical activity levels in a predominantly urban sample. We utilize the third wave of the Survey of Adults and Youth–a geocoded dataset–to identify determinants of walking or cycling to school, and in turn to explore to what extent active travel impacts adolescents' weekly exercise levels. Consistent with the literature, we find that the distance between home and school is the largest influence on the travel mode decision. We also find no evidence that active travel increases the number of students’ weekly exercise sessions. These results suggest that previous findings may not extend to all environments or populations.


Included in

Economics Commons