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Open Access Research

People living in hilly residential areas in metropolitan Perth have less diabetes: spurious association or important environmental determinant?

Karen Villanueva14*, Matthew Knuiman2, Mohammad Javad Koohsari34, Sharyn Hickey1, Sarah Foster1, Hannah Badland4, Andrea Nathan5, Fiona Bull1 and Billie Giles-Corti4

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for the Built Environment and Health, School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

2 School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia

3 Behavioural Epidemiology Laboratory, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, 75 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3004, Australia

4 McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Level 5, 207 Bouverie Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

5 School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove Campus, Brisbane, Queensland 4006, Australia

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2013, 12:59  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-12-59

Published: 21 December 2013



Variations in ‘slope’ (how steep or flat the ground is) may be good for health. As walking up hills is a physiologically vigorous physical activity and can contribute to weight control, greater neighbourhood slopes may provide a protective barrier to weight gain, and help prevent Type 2 diabetes onset. We explored whether living in ‘hilly’ neighbourhoods was associated with diabetes prevalence among the Australian adult population.


Participants (≥25 years; n = 11,406) who completed the Western Australian Health and Wellbeing Surveillance System Survey (2003–2009) were asked whether or not they had medically-diagnosed diabetes. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software was used to calculate a neighbourhood mean slope score, and other built environment measures at 1600 m around each participant’s home. Logistic regression models were used to predict the odds of self-reported diabetes after progressive adjustment for individual measures (i.e., age, sex), socioeconomic status (i.e., education, income), built environment, destinations, nutrition, and amount of walking.


After full adjustment, the odds of self-reported diabetes was 0.72 (95% CI 0.55-0.95) and 0.52 (95% CI 0.39-0.69) for adults living in neighbourhoods with moderate and higher levels of slope, respectively, compared with adults living in neighbourhoods with the lowest levels of slope. The odds of having diabetes was 13% lower (odds ratio 0.87; 95% CI 0.80-0.94) for each increase of one percent in mean slope.


Living in a hilly neighbourhood may be protective of diabetes onset or this finding is spurious. Nevertheless, the results are promising and have implications for future research and the practice of flattening land in new housing developments.

Adults; Built environment; Diabetes; Hilly; Neighbourhood; Slope; Terrain; Walking