Unsafe to play? Neighborhood disorder and lack of safety predict reduced physical activity among urban children and adolescents

Am J Health Promot. 2004 May-Jun;18(5):378-86. doi: 10.4278/0890-1171-18.5.378.


Purpose: Lack of physical activity is associated with increased risk of overweight and cardiovascular disease, conditions associated with lower socioeconomic status (SES). Associations between activity levels of urban youth and limited access to safe recreation areas in their neighborhoods of residence were investigated.

Design: Analyses of data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, a multilevel longitudinal study of families and communities, are reported.

Setting: Chicago, Illinois.

Subjects: Individual-level data were obtained from 1378 youth 11 to 16 years old and caregivers living in 80 neighborhood clusters. Neighborhood-level data were collected from 8782 community residents and videotapes of 15,141 block faces.

Measures: Parental estimates of hours youth spent in recreational programming were used to estimate physical activity. A scale of residents' assessment of neighborhood safety for children's play was created; disorder measures came from videotaped observations.

Results: Physical activity averaged 2.7 hours/week (SD = 5.0), varying significantly across neighborhoods. Using hierarchical linear regression, SES, age, and male gender, but not body mass index, were independently associated with physical activity. Lower neighborhood safety and social disorder were significantly associated with less activity, controlling for demographics.

Conclusions: One mechanism for reduced physical activity among youth may be the influence of unsafe neighborhoods. Neighborhood interventions to increase safety and reduce disorder may be efficacious in increasing physical activity, thereby reducing risk of overweight and cardiovascular disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / ethnology
  • Anomie
  • Censuses
  • Chicago
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / ethnology
  • Environment Design
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior* / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Safety / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Conditions*
  • Urban Health / statistics & numerical data*