Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 84, Issue 2, pp 162–184 | Cite as

Exploring Associations between Physical Activity and Perceived and Objective Measures of the Built Environment

  • Aileen P. McGinnEmail author
  • Kelly R. Evenson
  • Amy H. Herring
  • Sara L. Huston
  • Daniel A. Rodriguez


The built environment may be responsible for making nonmotorized transportation inconvenient, resulting in declines in physical activity. However, few studies have assessed both the perceived and objectively measured environment in association with physical activity outcomes. The purpose of this study was to describe the associations between perceptions and objective measures of the built environment and their associations with leisure, walking, and transportation activity. Perception of the environment was assessed from responses to 1,270 telephone surveys conducted in Forsyth County, NC and Jackson, MS from January to July 2003. Participants were asked if high-speed cars, heavy traffic, and lack of crosswalks or sidewalks were problems in their neighborhood or barriers to physical activity. They were also asked if there are places to walk to instead of driving in their neighborhood. Speed, volume, and street connectivity were assessed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for both study areas. Locations of crashes were measured using GIS for the NC study area as well. Objective and perceived measures of the built environment were in poor agreement as calculated by kappa coefficients. Few associations were found between any of the physical activity outcomes and perception of speed, volume, or presence of sidewalks as problems in the neighborhood or as barriers to physical activity in regression analyses. Associations between perceptions of having places to walk to and presence of crosswalks differed between study sites. Several associations were found between objective measures of traffic volume, traffic speed, and crashes with leisure, walking, and transportation activity in Forsyth County, NC; however, in Jackson, MS, only traffic volume was associated with any of the physical activity outcomes. When both objective and perceived measures of the built environment were combined into the same model, we observed independent associations with physical activity; thus, we feel that evaluating both objective and perceived measures of the built environment may be necessary when examining the relationship between the built environment and physical activity.


Physical activity Built environment Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Perceptions Objective measures 



This study was funded by a grant from the American Heart Association. The lead author was also funded, in part, by NIH, NHLBI, and NRSA training grant no. 5-T32-HL007055. The authors would like to thank Fang Wen for her contribution via programming.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aileen P. McGinn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kelly R. Evenson
    • 2
  • Amy H. Herring
    • 3
  • Sara L. Huston
    • 2
  • Daniel A. Rodriguez
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology and Population HealthAlbert Einstein College of MedicineBronxUSA
  2. 2.Department of EpidemiologyUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiostatisticsUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.Department of City and Regional PlanningUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

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