Background: Increasing empirical evidence supports associations between neighborhood environments and physical activity. However, since most studies were conducted in a single country, particularly western countries, the generalizability of associations in an international setting is not well understood. The current study examined whether associations between perceived attributes of neighborhood environments and physical activity differed by country.
Methods: Population representative samples from 11 countries on five continents were surveyed using comparable methodologies and measurement instruments. Neighborhood environment × country interactions were tested in logistic regression models with meeting physical activity recommendations as the outcome, adjusted for demographic characteristics. Country-specific associations were reported.
Results: Significant neighborhood environment attribute × country interactions implied some differences across countries in the association of each neighborhood attribute with meeting physical activity recommendations. Across the 11 countries, land-use mix and sidewalks had the most consistent associations with physical activity. Access to public transit, bicycle facilities, and low-cost recreation facilities had some associations with physical activity, but with less consistency across countries. There was little evidence supporting the associations of residential density and crime-related safety with physical activity in most countries.
Conclusion: There is evidence of generalizability for the associations of land use mix, and presence of sidewalks with physical activity. Associations of other neighborhood characteristics with physical activity tended to differ by country. Future studies should include objective measures of neighborhood environments, compare psychometric properties of reports across countries, and use better specified models to further understand the similarities and differences in associations across countries.