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Int J Health Geogr. 2015 Dec 22;14:35. doi: 10.1186/s12942-015-0027-3.

Assessing opportunities for physical activity in the built environment of children: interrelation between kernel density and neighborhood scale.

Author information

Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, BIPS, Bremen, Germany.
Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.
Institute of Geography, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany.
National Institute for Health Development, Tallinn, Estonia.
Institute of Psychology, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia.
Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, BIPS, Bremen, Germany.
Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany.



Built environment studies provide broad evidence that urban characteristics influence physical activity (PA). However, findings are still difficult to compare, due to inconsistent measures assessing urban point characteristics and varying definitions of spatial scale. Both were found to influence the strength of the association between the built environment and PA.


We simultaneously evaluated the effect of kernel approaches and network-distances to investigate the association between urban characteristics and physical activity depending on spatial scale and intensity measure. We assessed urban measures of point characteristics such as intersections, public transit stations, and public open spaces in ego-centered network-dependent neighborhoods based on geographical data of one German study region of the IDEFICS study. We calculated point intensities using the simple intensity and kernel approaches based on fixed bandwidths, cross-validated bandwidths including isotropic and anisotropic kernel functions and considering adaptive bandwidths that adjust for residential density. We distinguished six network-distances from 500 m up to 2 km to calculate each intensity measure. A log-gamma regression model was used to investigate the effect of each urban measure on moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) of 400 2- to 9.9-year old children who participated in the IDEFICS study. Models were stratified by sex and age groups, i.e. pre-school children (2 to <6 years) and school children (6-9.9 years), and were adjusted for age, body mass index (BMI), education and safety concerns of parents, season and valid weartime of accelerometers.


Association between intensity measures and MVPA strongly differed by network-distance, with stronger effects found for larger network-distances. Simple intensity revealed smaller effect estimates and smaller goodness-of-fit compared to kernel approaches. Smallest variation in effect estimates over network-distances was found for kernel intensity measures based on isotropic and anisotropic cross-validated bandwidth selection.


We found a strong variation in the association between the built environment and PA of children based on the choice of intensity measure and network-distance. Kernel intensity measures provided stable results over various scales and improved the assessment compared to the simple intensity measure. Considering different spatial scales and kernel intensity methods might reduce methodological limitations in assessing opportunities for PA in the built environment.

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