Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 103, Supplement 3, pp S29–S34 | Cite as

Walkable for Whom? Examining the Role of the Built Environment on the Neighbourhood-based Physical Activity of Children

  • Kristjana Loptson
  • Nazeem MuhajarineEmail author
  • Tracy Ridalls
  • the Smart Cities, Healthy Kids Research Team
  • Nazeem Muhajarine
  • Karen Chad
  • Cory Neudorf
  • Adam Baxter-Jones
  • Bill Holden
  • Scott Bell
  • Charlie Clark
  • Lauren Sherar
  • Dale Esliger
  • Sara Kirk
  • Paul Hanley
  • Lan Vu
Quantitative Research



To date, only a few studies have attempted to study the processes by which community design and the built and social environments affect individual physical activity, especially in children. Qualitative enquiry is useful for exploring perceptions and decision-making, and to understand the processes involved in how people interact with their environments. This study used qualitative methods to gain insight into the pathways linking the neighbourhood environment with children’s activity patterns.


Data were collected in semi-structured interviews with 24 child-parent dyads (children aged 10–14 years). Families lived in neighbourhoods ranging from lowest to highest median income and representing the three main design types found in Saskatoon - urban, semi-suburban and suburban.


Parents and children underscored the importance of safe environments for children’s physical activity: streets or paths they can cycle on without feeling threatened, parks and green spaces free of criminal activity, and neighbourhoods where people know each other and children have friends to play with. Although grid-pattern urban neighbourhoods with a high density of destinations may in principle promote active transportation, the higher levels of crime and traffic danger that tend to exist in these areas may hinder physical activity in children.


Understanding what facilitates activity in children is a complex endeavour. It requires understanding the barriers to physical activity present at the neighbourhood level as well as social and perceptual factors that act in interdependent ways to either promote or hinder children’s physical activity.

Key words

Neighbourhood built environment children qualitative method safety physical activity 

Mots clés

milieu bâti du quartier enfants méthode qualitative sécurité activité physique 



Jusqu’à maintenant, très peu d’études se sont penchées sur le processus par lequel le design communautaire, le milieu bâti et l’environnement social influent sur l’activité physique des gens, en particulier les enfants. Les enquêtes qualitatives sont utiles pour explorer les perceptions et la prise de décisions, et pour comprendre les processus en jeu dans les interactions des gens avec leur environnement. Notre étude fait appel à des méthodes qualitatives pour approfondir la compréhension des liens entre l’environnement du quartier et le profil d’activité des enfants.


Des données ont été recueillies à la faveur d’entretiens semidirigés auprès de 24 dyades parents-enfants (les enfants ayant de 10 à 14 ans). Les familles habitaient des quartiers au revenu médian variable (du plus faible au plus élevé) et qui représentaient les trois grands types de design observés à Saskatoon: urbain, semi-suburbain et suburbain.


Parents et enfants ont souligné l’importance que l’environnement soit sûr pour l’activité physique des enfants: des rues ou des sentiers où l’on peut faire de la bicyclette sans se sentir menacé, des parcs et des espaces verts sans activités criminelles, et des quartiers où les gens se connaissent et où les enfants ont des camarades avec qui jouer. Bien que les quartiers urbains aux rues quadrillées, denses en points d’intérêt, favorisent en principe le transport actif, les taux de criminalité plus élevés et les dangers de la circulation qui ont tendance à exister dans ces quartiers peuvent entraver l’activité physique des enfants.


Tenter de comprendre ce qui facilite l’activité chez les enfants est une tâche complexe. Elle exige de connaître les obstacles à l’activité physique présents à l’échelle des quartiers ainsi que les facteurs sociaux et perceptuels qui agissent de façon interdépendante pour favoriser ou entraver l’activité physique des enfants.


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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristjana Loptson
    • 1
  • Nazeem Muhajarine
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tracy Ridalls
    • 1
  • the Smart Cities, Healthy Kids Research Team
  • Nazeem Muhajarine
  • Karen Chad
  • Cory Neudorf
  • Adam Baxter-Jones
  • Bill Holden
  • Scott Bell
  • Charlie Clark
  • Lauren Sherar
  • Dale Esliger
  • Sara Kirk
  • Paul Hanley
  • Lan Vu
  1. 1.Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research UnitCanada
  2. 2.Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, College of MedicineUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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