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Open Access Research

Walkable new urban LEED_Neighborhood-Development (LEED-ND) community design and children's physical activity: selection, environmental, or catalyst effects?

Robert B Stevens,1 and Barbara B Brown2*

Author Affiliations

1 Masters of Public Policy Program, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA

2 Family and Consumer Studies Department, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:139  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-139

Published: 20 December 2011

Abstract

Background

Interest is growing in physical activity-friendly community designs, but few tests exist of communities explicitly designed to be walkable. We test whether students living in a new urbanist community that is also a pilot LEED_ND (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-Neighborhood Development) community have greater accelerometer-measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) across particular time periods compared to students from other communities. We test various time/place periods to see if the data best conform to one of three explanations for MVPA. Environmental effects suggest that MVPA occurs when individuals are exposed to activity-friendly settings; selection effects suggest that walkable community residents prefer MVPA, which leads to both their choice of a walkable community and their high levels of MVPA; catalyst effects occur when walking to school creates more MVPA, beyond the school commute, on schooldays but not weekends.

Methods

Fifth graders (n = 187) were sampled from two schools representing three communities: (1) a walkable community, Daybreak, designed with new urbanist and LEED-ND pilot design standards; (2) a mixed community (where students lived in a less walkable community but attended the walkable school so that part of the route to school was walkable), and (3) a less walkable community. Selection threats were addressed through controlling for parental preferences for their child to walk to school as well as comparing in-school MVPA for the walkable and mixed groups.

Results

Minutes of MVPA were tested with 3 × 2 (Community by Gender) analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs). Community walkability related to more MVPA during the half hour before and after school and, among boys only, more MVPA after school. Boys were more active than girls, except during the half hour after school. Students from the mixed and walkable communities--who attended the same school--had similar in-school MVPA levels, and community groups did not differ in weekend MVPA, providing little evidence of selection effects.

Conclusions

Even after our controls for selection effects, we find evidence of environmental effects on MVPA. These results suggest that walkable community design, according to new urbanist and LEED_ND pilot design standards, is related to higher MVPA among students at certain times.

Keywords:
Walkability; new urbanism; LEED_ND; neighborhood design; walk to school; accelerometer