Background: Reviews have reported mixed findings for associations between physical activity and proximity to a range of environmental resources. Initially most studies used self reported proximity, but more are now using GIS techniques to measure proximity objectively. We know little about the extent of agreement between self reported and directly measured proximity of the same resource.
Methods: We used previously collected data in a community survey in Glasgow in which 658 respondents aged around 40 and 60 were asked whether they lived within half a mile of a public park. We compared their answers with GIS measures of whether there was a park within a half mile service area of their home (and whether their home was within a half mile crow fly buffer of a park).
Results: Agreement was poor; percentage agreement between measured network distance and reported residence within 0.5 miles of a park was 62.0%, and the kappa value was 0.095. Agreement was no higher than poor in any socio-demographic subgroup, or when using crow fly buffers instead of service areas.
Conclusion: One should be cautious about assuming that respondents' self reports of proximity to a resource are a valid proxy for actual distance, or vice versa. Further research is needed to establish whether actual or self-reported proximity predict physical activity or other behaviours, and if so which is the strongest predictor. Further, qualitative study, also needs to examine the basis of people's judgements about the location of resources, and the possibility that these are shaped by their social and personal significance.