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Neighbourhood safety and leisure-time physical activity among Dutch adults: a multilevel perspective

Daniëlle Kramer1*, Jolanda Maas2, Marleen Wingen3 and Anton E Kunst1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Academic Medical Centre, University of Amsterdam, PO Box 22660, Amsterdam, 1100 DD, The Netherlands

2 Department of Public and Occupational Health, and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

3 Department of Social and Spatial Statistics, Statistics Netherlands, Heerlen, the Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:11  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-11

Published: 28 January 2013



Several neighbourhood elements have been found to be related to leisure-time walking and cycling. However, the association with neighbourhood safety remains unclear. This study aimed to assess the association of neighbourhood-level safety with leisure-time walking and cycling among Dutch adults.


Data were derived from the national health survey (POLS) 2006–2009, with valid data on 20046 respondents residing in 2127 neighbourhoods. Multilevel logistic regression models were used to examine the association between neighbourhood-level safety (general safety and specific safety components: physical disorder, social disorder, crime-related fear, traffic safety) and residents’ engagement in outdoor leisure-time walking and cycling for at least 30 minutes per week.


An increase in neighbourhood safety (both general safety and each of the safety components) was significantly associated with an increase in leisure-time cycling participation. Associations were strongest for general safety and among older women. In the general population, neighbourhood safety was not significantly associated with leisure-time walking. However, among younger and older adult men and lower educated individuals, an increase in general safety was associated with a decrease in leisure-time walking participation.


In the Netherlands, neighbourhood safety appears to be related to leisure-time cycling but not to walking. Leisure-time cycling may best be encouraged by improving different safety components at once, rather than focusing on one safety aspect such as traffic safety. Special attention is needed for older women.

Physical activity; Walking; Cycling; Safety; Crime; Environment