Socioeconomic status and perceptions of access and safety for physical activity

Ann Behav Med. 2004 Aug;28(1):20-8. doi: 10.1207/s15324796abm2801_4.


Background: Environmental factors may play an important role on influencing physical activity (PA) behaviors.

Purpose: Perceptions of access and safety for PA were compared among residents who were stratified as low or high in socioeconomic status (SES).

Methods: Residents of a U.S. southeastern county (N = 1,194, 18-96 years of age) were contacted using a random-digit-dial method and asked about neighborhood and community environmental supports for PA. A Geographic Information System (GIS) was used to identify trails, sidewalks, public recreation facilities, and violent crime incidents.

Results: A cluster analysis identified 10 census tracts as low SES and 11 census tracts as high SES (median household income, owner-occupied houses). More African Americans (66.5%) than Whites (33.5%) were classified as living in low-SES areas. Respondents from low-SES areas also reported engaging in less PA based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American College of Sports Medicine recommendations than respondents from high-SES areas (p <.05). Respondents from low-SES (vs. high-SES) areas reported higher perceptions of neighborhood crime, unattended dogs, unpleasantness of neighborhoods, untrustworthy neighbors, and less access to public recreation facilities (ps <.05). GIS data for presence of sidewalks, recreation facilities, and crime did not support these differences in perceptions; however, respondents from low-SES (vs. high-SES) areas had substantially fewer trails. Having and using trails in one's community predicted sufficient PA and walking for 150 min/week for low-SES respondents but not for high SES respondents (ps =.05, adjusted for covariates).

Conclusions: Having access to trails is an important environmental feature among low-SES communities and should be the focus of future community-based PA interventions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Data Collection
  • Environment Design*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Recreation*
  • Safety*
  • Social Class*
  • Walking