Introduction: Physical activity is important for children's health and well-being. Supportiveness for physical activity of home and neighborhood environments may affect children's PA, but most studies are cross-sectional. We examined environmental predictors of change in children's physical activity over two years.
Methods: Data were from the longitudinal, observational cohort study, 'Neighborhood Impact on Kids'. Participants were children (initially aged 6-12 years) and their parent/caregiver (n = 727 dyads) living in neighborhoods throughout San Diego County, California and King County (Seattle area), Washington, USA. Children's moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) was measured using accelerometers at T1 (Time 1 or baseline, 2007-2009) and T2, the two-year follow-up. At T1, parents survey-reported on physical activity (PA) equipment at home and demographics. Neighborhood environment was measured using spatial data in Geographic Information Systems (intersection density; park availability) and in-person audits (informal play space near home; park-based PA facilities; land use; support for walking/cycling). Generalized additive mixed models estimated total effects, then direct effects, of environmental attributes on MVPA at T1. Two-way moderating effects of child's sex and age were examined at T1. To examine associations of environmental exposures with changes in MVPA, we estimated interaction effects of environmental attributes on the association between time and MVPA.
Results: On average, children accumulated 146 min/day (standard deviation or SD = 53) of MVPA at T1, and 113 (SD = 58) min/day at T2. There were no significant total or direct effects of environmental attributes on MVPA at T1, and no significant two-way interaction effects of child's age and sex for T1 MVPA. Having informal play spaces proximal to home with more amenities was associated with less MVPA decline from T1 to T2. Higher residential density, higher land use mix, and higher number of PA facilities in nearby parks were unexpectedly associated with greater MVPA decline.
Conclusion: Higher quality informal play spaces close to home may help offset declines in MVPA during middle childhood, as they may promote unstructured active play with opportunities for parental or neighbor surveillance. Unexpectedly, environmental factors consistent with higher walkability were associated with greater declines in children's MVPA. As physical activity differs across the lifespan, so may environmental factors that facilitate it.
Keywords: Accelerometer; Built environment; Context; Moderator analysis; Recreation.
© 2023. The Author(s).