Background: Enhancing community environments to support walking and bicycling serves as a promising approach to increase population levels of physical activity. However, few studies have simultaneously assessed perceptions and objectively measured environmental factors and their relative association with transportation or recreational physical activity.
Methods: For this cross-sectional study, high- and low-income study areas were selected among census tracts in St. Louis MO ("low-walkable" city) and Savannah GA ("high-walkable" city). Between February and June 2002, a telephone survey of 1068 adults provided measures of the perceived environment and physical activity behavior. In this timeframe, objective measures were collected through environmental audits of all street segments (n =1158). These measures were summarized using 400-m buffers surrounding each respondent. Neighborhood characteristics included the land use environment, transportation environment, recreational facilities, aesthetics, and social environment. Associations were examined between neighborhood features and transportation- and recreation-based activity.
Results: After adjusting for age, gender, and education, transportation activity was negatively associated with objective measures of sidewalk levelness and perceived and objective neighborhood aesthetics. It was positively associated with perceived and objectively measured number of destinations and public transit, perceived access to bike lanes, and objective counts of active people in the neighborhood. Recreational activity was positively associated with perceived access to recreational facilities and objective measures of attractive features.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that physical activities for transportation or recreational are associated with different perceived and objective environmental characteristics. Modifications to these features may change the physical activity behavior of residents exposed to them.