People who live in the densest, pedestrian-friendly parts of New York City have a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) compared to other New Yorkers, a new study finds.

Lower BMI indicates less body fat.

The researchers say placing shops, restaurants and public transit near residences may promote walking and independence from private automobiles.

"There are relatively strong associations between built environment and BMI, even in population-dense New York City," said the study's lead author Andrew Rundle of the Mailman School of Public Health.

The study appears in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Conversely, other research has shown that suburban sprawl and all the driving that comes with it leads to health woes.

In the new study, Rundle and colleagues looked at data from 13,102 adults from New York City’s five boroughs. Matching information on education, income, height, weight and home address with census data and geographic records, they determined access to public transit, proximity to commercial goods and services and BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height.

City dwellers living in areas evenly balanced between residences and commercial use had significantly lower BMIs compared to New Yorkers who lived in mostly residential or commercial areas.

"A mixture of commercial and residential land uses puts commercial facilities that you need for everyday living within walking distance," Rundle said. "You’re not going to get off the couch to walk to the corner store if there’s no corner store to walk to."