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Front Public Health. 2014 May 20;2:52. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2014.00052. eCollection 2014.

The built environment predicts observed physical activity.

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Department of Health Sciences, University of Colorado Colorado Springs , Colorado Springs, CO , USA.
Department of Geography, School of Liberal Arts, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis , Indianapolis, IN , USA.
College for Public Health and Social Justice, Saint Louis University , St. Louis, MO , USA.
Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina , Columbia, SC , USA.
Regenstrief Institute Inc., Center for Aging Research, Indiana University School of Medicine , Indianapolis, IN , USA.



In order to improve our understanding of the relationship between the built environment and physical activity, it is important to identify associations between specific geographic characteristics and physical activity behaviors.


Examine relationships between observed physical activity behavior and measures of the built environment collected on 291 street segments in Indianapolis and St. Louis.


Street segments were selected using a stratified geographic sampling design to ensure representation of neighborhoods with different land use and socioeconomic characteristics. Characteristics of the built environment on-street segments were audited using two methods: in-person field audits and audits based on interpretation of Google Street View imagery with each method blinded to results from the other. Segments were dichotomized as having a particular characteristic (e.g., sidewalk present or not) based on the two auditing methods separately. Counts of individuals engaged in different forms of physical activity on each segment were assessed using direct observation. Non-parametric statistics were used to compare counts of physically active individuals on each segment with built environment characteristic.


Counts of individuals engaged in physical activity were significantly higher on segments with mixed land use or all non-residential land use, and on segments with pedestrian infrastructure (e.g., crosswalks and sidewalks) and public transit.


Several micro-level built environment characteristics were associated with physical activity. These data provide support for theories that suggest changing the built environment and related policies may encourage more physical activity.


micro characteristics; objective measures; policy interventions; street view; walkable

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