Presentation at the 2007 Active Living Research Annual Conference
There is limited research on environmental factors that impact physical activity among adolescents. This is particularly true for African American youth who are at risk for low levels of physical activity and high rates of obesity.
The objective of this research was to examine perceptions of environmental influences on physical activity among urban African American adolescents.
Between October 2005 and March 2006, fifty African American adolescents living in Baltimore, Maryland participated in concept mapping. This participatory research methodology uses qualitative and non-parametric statistical methods to create a visual display of a group’s perceptions of a topic. Brainstorming, sorting and rating of statements, and multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analyses were used to obtain a list of perceived environmental characteristics that influence physical activity, create a map that depicts these characteristics and their relative importance to physical activity, and identify intervention strategies for increasing physical activity.
Participants identified 71 environmental characteristics that influence physical activity and generated a map which clustered these items into seven conceptual domains, including physical activity settings, social support, negative social influences, parental control, negative environmental influences, transportation and technology issues, and financial issues. Social support, financial issues, and physical activity settings were rated as most important to physical activity. Gender differences were evident. Female participants rated negative social influences in the form of crime, violence, and other negative social environmental characteristics as most important to physical activity; whereas male participants rated social support and physical activity settings as most important. Participants identified several intervention strategies for increasing physical activity. These included improving the social environment by increasing support and encouragement for physical activity and decreasing crime; increasing the number of affordable physical activity facilities; and increasing access to neighborhood after-school activities and sports competitions.
This research identified salient environmental characteristics that can be measured in future studies as well as strategies for increasing physical activity among urban youth.