Presentation at the 2009 Active Living Research Annual Conference
The dimension of built neighborhood environment measures remains a debate in public health research. Many public health studies have focused on the traditional risk factor approach, which examines the independent effects of specific neighborhood characteristics related to physical activities. However, from an urban planning perspective, specific aspects of the built environment, such as land use mix and density, occur concurrently in neighborhoods. Urban planners such as Ewing, Song and Knaap have developed methods to measure the multi-dimensions of built environments using pattern analysis. By adopting a pattern analyses approach, Nelson et al. found that adolescent risk of overweight and inactivity varied by neighborhood patterns. However, Nelson et al. did not examine how the perception of neighborhood might be associated with the multi-dimensions of the objectively measured environment. The literature suggests that perceptions are important determinants of physical activity behavior. Kirtland et al. found fair to low levels of agreement between environmental perceptions and objective measured community features for adults. Thus, there is a need to determine how adolescents living in diverse neighborhoods perceive their environment, as a better understanding of variations in perceptions may lead to effective strategies to increase their physical activity.
In order to fill in the gap in the literature, we conducted the current study. The objectives of this study were to (1) classify meaningful patterns (forms) of neighborhood environment that have been identified as potentially important determinants of physical activity; and (2) examine the gender-specific cross-sectional associations between these neighborhood patterns (forms) and perceptions on physical activity-related neighborhood barriers and facilitators in predominately minority youth. The unique contributions of this study are threefold. First, it validates the multi-dimension pattern analysis used by Nelson et al. Second, it examines correlations of multi-dimensional measured neighborhood forms with perceptions of physical activity-related neighborhood factors in minority youth. Third, potential gender-specific associations are considered because there is qualitative evidence to supports the hypothesis that adolescent boys and girls have different perceptions of their neighborhood environment.
The Baltimore Active Living Teens Study (BALTS) is a cross-sectional study of multi-level risk and protective factors and physical activity in a sample of 350 urban high school students (58.4% female, 69% African American, aged 15-19) conducted in 2006. Self-reported neighborhood environmental variables were assessed in a Web-based survey. Participants indicated (agree”, “neither” or “disagree”) whether 15 characteristics applied to their neighborhood. The 15 items were adapted from the Neighborhood Environment Walkability Scale (NEWS) which measures broad categories of perceived neighborhood accessibility, pedestrian/traffic environments, and safety.
The objectively measured attributes of urban form come from various sources: (1) 2000 U.S. Census; (2) 2002 land use land cover; (3) parcel level data from Maryland Property View; (4) transit data including bus, metro, and light rail layers. All attributes were measured and calculated within blocks and half-mile buffers around the home addresses of participants. Census tract boundaries were used to classify neighborhood types.
Classification of neighborhoods was achieved by: (1) identifying 15 relevant attributes of physical urban form and computing indicators of those attributes, such as land-use mix, density, street pattern/circulation systems, and accessibility; (2) using factor analysis to derive generalized dimensions of neighborhood characters; (3) performing cluster analysis to group the variation in neighborhood form in individual census tracts; and (4) geocoding the 350 individual addresses and assigning a neighborhood type for each residence based on its spatial distribution (ArcGIS 9.1.3).
The dependent variables were self reported perceptions of the environments with three response categories: agree, neither, and disagree. Gender-specific Chi square tests and multinomial logistic regression examined the association between neighborhood perception variables and neighborhood forms. The independent variables were the neighborhood form/patterns. Demographic variables (e.g., age, grade) were covariates.
Four neighborhood forms/patterns were identified by factor analysis and pattern analysis: (1) arterial development; (2) inner-city area; (3) suburban residential; and (4) central business district. Results from multinomial logistic regression analyses showed that adolescent boys and girls had different risks of perceiving the environmental characteristics related to physical activity after controlling for demographic variables. Girls who lived in suburban residential areas were less likely than their central business district counterparts to perceive the facilitating effects of traffic related factors [crosswalk: OR=0.32(95%CI: 0.15-0.70); pedestrian traffic signals: OR=0.34(95%CI: 0.16-0.72)]. Boys’ perceptions of their neighborhood did not vary by neighborhood pattern.
These findings indicate that boys and girls perceive their environments differently, which impacts their risk of overweight and activity levels. Girls are more sensitive to their environment and perceive more barriers compared to boys. More efforts to overcome barriers salient for adolescent girls will help curb the epidemic of overweight and inactivity in minority adolescents.
This study was supported by a research grant (052338) and a dissertation award (63530) from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Program.