Background: Given the documented physical activity disparities that exist among low-income minority communities and the increased focused on socio-ecological approaches to address physical inactivity, efforts aimed at understanding the built environment to support physical activity are needed. This community-based participatory research (CBPR) project investigates walking trails perceptions in a high minority southern community and objectively examines walking trails. The primary aim is to explore if perceived and objective audit variables predict meeting recommendations for walking and physical activity, MET/minutes/week of physical activity, and frequency of trail use.
Methods: A proportional sampling plan was used to survey community residents in this cross-sectional study. Previously validated instruments were pilot tested and appropriately adapted and included the short version of the validated International Physical Activity Questionnaire, trail use, and perceptions of walking trails. Walking trails were assessed using the valid and reliable Path Environmental Audit Tool which assesses four content areas including: design features, amenities, maintenance, and pedestrian safety from traffic. Analyses included Chi-square, one-way ANOVA's, multiple linear regression, and multiple logistic models.
Results: Numerous (n = 21) high quality walking trails were available. Across trails, there were very few indicators of incivilities and safety features rated relatively high. Among the 372 respondents, trail use significantly predicted meeting recommendations for walking and physical activity, and MET/minutes/week. While controlling for other variables, significant predictors of trail use included proximity to trails, as well as perceptions of walking trail safety, trail amenities, and neighborhood pedestrian safety. Furthermore, while controlling for education, gender, and income; for every one time per week increase in using walking trails, the odds for meeting walking recommendations increased 1.27 times, and the odds for meeting PA recommendation increased 3.54 times. Perceived and objective audit variables did not predict meeting physical activity recommendations.
Conclusions: To improve physical activity levels, intervention efforts are needed to maximize the use of existing trails, as well as improve residents' perceptions related to incivilities, safety, conditions of trail, and amenities of the walking trails. This study provides important insights for informing development of the CBPR walking intervention and informing local recreational and environmental policies in this southern community.