Associations between observed neighborhood characteristics and physical activity: findings from a multiethnic urban community

J Public Health (Oxf). 2014 Sep;36(3):358-67. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdt099. Epub 2013 Oct 24.


Background: There is growing interest in the contributions of characteristics of the neighborhood environment to inequalities in physical activity. However, few studies have examined the relationship between observed neighborhood environmental characteristics and physical activity in a multiethnic urban area.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess relationships between neighborhood environments and physical activity and the extent to which these associations varied by demographic characteristics or perceptions of the physical and social environment.

Methods: Cross-sectional analyses drew upon data collected from a stratified proportional probability sample of non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic and non-Hispanic White (NHW) adults (n = 919) in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods in Detroit, Michigan. Physical activity was assessed as self-reported duration and frequency of vigorous and moderate physical activity. Observed physical environment was assessed through systematic social observation by trained observers on blocks adjacent to survey respondents' residences.

Results: We find a positive association of sidewalk condition with physical activity, with stronger effects for younger compared with older residents. In addition, physical disorder was more negatively associated with physical activity among NHW and older residents.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that sidewalk improvements and reductions in physical disorder in urban communities may promote greater equity in physical activity.

Keywords: environment; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environment Design / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Whites / statistics & numerical data