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Children’s physical activity and parents’ perception of the neighborhood environment: neighborhood impact on kids study

Karyn A Tappe12, Karen Glanz3, James F Sallis45, Chuan Zhou67 and Brian E Saelens67*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

2 Current address: Department of Psychology, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA

3 Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Perelman School of Medicine and School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

4 Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA

5 Current address: Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA

6 Seattle Children’s Research Institute, P.O. Box 5371, Seattle, WA 98145, USA

7 Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:39  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-39

Published: 27 March 2013



Physical activity is important to children’s physical health and well-being. Many factors contribute to children’s physical activity, and the built environment has garnered considerable interest recently, as many young children spend much of their time in and around their immediate neighborhood. Few studies have identified correlates of children’s activity in specific locations. This study examined associations between parent report of their home neighborhood environment and children’s overall and location-specific physical activity.


Parents and children ages 6 to 11 (n=724), living in neighborhoods identified through objective built environment factors as high or low in physical activity environments, were recruited from Seattle and San Diego metropolitan areas, 2007–2009. Parents completed a survey about their child’s activity and perceptions of home neighborhood environmental attributes. Children wore an accelerometer for 7 days. Multivariate regression models explored perceived environment correlates of parent-reported child’s recreational physical activity in their neighborhood, in parks, and in general, as well as accelerometry-based moderate-to-vigorous activity (MVPA) minutes.


Parent-reported proximity to play areas correlated positively with both accelerometery MVPA and parent-reported total child physical activity. Lower street connectivity and higher neighborhood aesthetics correlated with higher reported child activity in the neighborhood, while reported safety from crime and walk and cycle facilities correlated positively with reported child activity in public recreation spaces.


Different aspects of parent’s perceptions of the neighborhood environment appear to correlate with different aspects of children’s activity. However, prioritizing closer proximity to safe play areas may best improve children’s physical activity and, in turn, reduce their risk of obesity and associated chronic diseases.

Built environment; Perceptions; Recreation; Play