The built environment predicts observed physical activity
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Background: In order to improve our understanding of the relationship between the built environment and physical activity, it is important to identify associations between specific geographic characteristics and physical activity behaviors.
Purpose: Examine relationships between observed physical activity behavior and measures of the built environment collected on 291 street segments in Indianapolis and St. Louis.
Methods: Street segments were selected using a stratified geographic sampling design to ensure representation of neighborhoods with different land use and socioeconomic characteristics. Characteristics of the built environment on-street segments were audited using two methods: in-person field audits and audits based on interpretation of Google Street View imagery with each method blinded to results from the other. Segments were dichotomized as having a particular characteristic (e.g., sidewalk present or not) based on the two auditing methods separately. Counts of individuals engaged in different forms of physical activity on each segment were assessed using direct observation. Non-parametric statistics were used to compare counts of physically active individuals on each segment with built environment characteristic.
Results: Counts of individuals engaged in physical activity were significantly higher on segments with mixed land use or all non-residential land use, and on segments with pedestrian infrastructure (e.g., crosswalks and sidewalks) and public transit.
Conclusion: Several micro-level built environment characteristics were associated with physical activity. These data provide support for theories that suggest changing the built environment and related policies may encourage more physical activity.