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J Urban Health. 2004 Dec;81(4):671-81.

Perceptions of neighborhood environment for physical activity: is it "who you are" or "where you live"?

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Health Communication Research Laboratory, Department of Community Health, School of Public Health, Saint Louis University, 3545 Lafayette Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63104, USA.


Lack of physical activity among American adults is a serious public health concern. Many factors influence activity levels, and most research has focused on either individual factors, such as race and income, or on characteristics of the physical environment, such as the availability of parks. Our study used a cross-sectional multilevel design to examine the influences of individual- and neighborhood-level characteristics on participant's perceptions of their neighborhood as an appropriate venue for physical activity. Study participants were 1,073 African American and white adults living in the St. Louis, Missouri, metropolitan area. Individual-level information was gathered from self-administered questionnaires; neighborhood-level data for these same individuals were obtained from the 2000 US Census. We found that both individual and neighborhood characteristics were significant predictors of how individuals perceived physical activity opportunities in their neighborhood, and that African Americans perceived their neighborhoods as less safe and less pleasant for physical activity than did whites, regardless of the racial composition of the neighborhood. We suggest that any evaluation of opportunities for physical activity within a neighborhood should include consideration of resident's perceptions of the safety and pleasantness of using them, and that the role of perceived and actual neighborhood conditions in explaining disparities in physical activity between African American and other populations should be examined further.

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