Primary Investigators:


Professor Grant Schofield
Director, Human Potential Centre
BSc (Hons), PhD

Prof Schofield is Director of the Human Potential Centre at Auckland University of Technology. His research interest and expertise covers the range of settings in which physical activity can be promoted including primary care, workplaces, and schools.  The physical and social environment as modifiable determinants of physical activity underpins this work, especially the ability to affect local and national policy. These interests combined with knowledge and expertise in physical activity measurement makes the investigation of the social and environmental determinants of physical activity in adults and children through objective measurement through the URBAN study an important area of his research. Grant is the PI for the New Zealand-based URBAN study that links to the IPEN project worldwide.


Professor Karen Witten
MSc (Hons), PhD

Karen Witten is Associate Director at the Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation, Massey University, New Zealand. Karen’s research interests centre on interactions between the physical characteristics of neighbourhoods and cities and the social relationships, transport choices and well being of the people living in them. Recent work has included studies on: spatial inequities in access to services and amenities and the impact of differential access on health outcomes; the relationship between neighbourhood walkability, transport opportunities and choices; and impacts of school closure of the social relations of place.  Karen is co-principle investigator of the URBAN study, with primary interest in the measurement of the transport-related aspects of neighbourhood built environments.

Research Team:


Dr Hannah Badland
Research Fellow
BSR, MHSc (Hons), PhD

Dr Hannah Badland is a Research Fellow at the Place, Health and Liveability Program at the McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Health and Wellbeing, University of Melbourne, Melbourne Australia. Hannah’s research expertise lies in investigating the relationship between physical activity and the built environment, with a primary focus of understanding and promoting walking and cycling as modes of transport from a public health perspective. She has much experience in self-report and objective physical activity, travel, GPS, and GIS measures. Hannah is also involved in national and international studies that track travel behaviour, examine the relationship between the built environment, inequalities, and health and wellbeing, and is establishing a broader research program around liveability..


Associate Professor Erica Hinckson
Associate Dean Postgraduate
BSc, MSc, PhD

Erica Hinckson is the Associate Dean Postgraduate for the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences at Auckland University of Technology. Her research focuses on objective measures of physical activity and sedentary behavior.Erica is a member of the Steering Committee for IPEN Adolescent, Working Group Coordinator for CEPA, and the Co-Investigator of Built Environments and Physical Activity in Adolescents New Zealand (BEANZ).


Dr Melody Oliver
Research Fellow

Dr Melody Oliver is a Senior Research Fellow at Auckland University of Technology and is currently involved in numerous studies investigating associates of physical activity and health in children and adults. She has a broad interest in physical activity and health at a population and individual level, including the objective measurement of physical activity dimensions (habitual, transport-related, activity intensity, sedentary behaviours), and the integration of objective activity measurement and associated tools (e.g., pedometry, accelerometry, GPS, and GIS). Dr Oliver is particularly interested in physical activity and sedentary habits formed in early childhood and how these can be influenced by children’s social and built environments.





Dr Robin Kearns
Professor of Geography
BA, MSc (Hons), PhD

Professor Robin Kearns is in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. His research interests span aspects of social, cultural and health. His expertise lies in qualitative field methods and analysis. Robin’s current research includes work on older people’s housing, activism in the voluntary sector, changing social dynamics in coastal communities, and links between physical activity and neighbourhood design. With respect to the last of these, he is a co-investigator on the URBAN study and has a particular interest in children’s activity patterns. He continues to research and monitor the progress of walking school buses in Auckland, an initiative he assisted implementing a decade ago. Robin has published over 150 peer-reviewed publications and two internationally recognised books on the links between culture, place and health. He edits two journals: Health & Place, and Health and Social Care in the Community.


Suzanne Mavoa
GIS Analyst / Researcher
BSc, BCom(Hons), MSc(Dist)

Suzanne Mavoa is a GIS Analyst/Researcher at the SHORE & Whariki Research Centre, Massey University and teh McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing, The University of Melbourne. Her area of expertise is Geographic Information Systems and she is currently involved in studies investigating the relationship between the environment and health and wellbeing. Suzanne is particularly interested in GIS measures of the built environment (e.g. accessibility, walkability), qualitative GIS, space-time behaviour, and the use of GPS in health research.


Dr Vivienne Ivory
Research Fellow
DipTchg, BA, MA, PhD

Vivienne's research interests include contextual influences on health, family and child health outcomes, and policy processes. As a social scientist working in the public health field, Vivienne has a background in child development, education and policy processes. Her doctorate examined the relationship between levels of neighbourhood fragmentation and individual health, using both epidemiology and social science disciplines.
Vivienne is Principal Investigator on the Neighbourhoods & Health project which is currently focused on physical activity and neighbourhood places. She is also part of the SoFIE-Health project with an interest in neighbourhood effects. In addition, Vivienne is a named investigator in the Growing up in New Zealand birth cohort study. Her main interests in this project are examining the influence of the social context (including neighbourhoods) on family and child development.


Christina Ergler
PhD Candidate

Christina is presently a PhD Candidate In the School of Geography, Geology, and Environmental Science at the University of Auckland. She is a qualitative researcher focussed on understanding children's emotional attachment to outdoor places for being physically active. Christina also has previous research experience examining health care systems in developing countries.

The URBAN study: Synopsis

There is increasing evidence that sustainable solutions to increasing habitual physical activity and reducing obesity at the population-level may be related to design aspects of the neighbourhood environment. As such the Auckland University of Technology, in collaboration with Massey University, the University of Auckland, and the University of Otago are conducting a three-year project to explore the associations between body size and physical activity engagement in 2,000 adults and 450 children with built environment variables in New Zealand neighbourhoods.

The Understanding the Relationships between Activity and Neighbourhoods (URBAN) study will measure body size and physical activity levels in neighbourhoods throughout four New Zealand cities using objective measures (accelerometers, body measures) and self-report survey methods. Built environment characteristics of study neighbourhoods (street connectivity, dwelling density, land use) will be measured using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), audits, and self-report.

The URBAN Study builds on existing work carried out by the research team and benchmark New Zealand public health research with seven countries concurrently participating in studies with the same protocol. It is expected that the outcomes from this project will directly inform national and international urban design policy, town planning, and interventions to sustainably increase health outcomes by supporting population physical activity engagement and reducing obesity. This three-year project was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, is co-led by Professor Grant Schofield and Associate Professor Karen Witten, and is project managed by Dr Hannah Badland.

Badland, H.M., Schofield, G.M., Witten, K., Schluter, P.J., Mavoa, S., Kearns, R.A., et al. (2009). Understanding the Relationship between Activity and Neighbourhoods (URBAN) Study: research design and methodology. BMC Public Health, 9, 224. Read Paper

Witten, K., Blakely, T., Bagheri, N., Badland, H., Ivory, V., Pearce, J., Mavoa, S., Hinckson, E., Schofield, G. (2012). Neighborhood Built Environment and Transport and Leisure Physical Activity: Findings Using Objective Exposure and Outcome Measures in New Zealand. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120, 7, 971-977. Read Paper



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