Comparing Perceived and Objectively Measured Access to Recreational Facilities as Predictors of Physical Activity in Adolescent Girls

  • Molly M. Scott
  • Kelly R. Evenson
  • Deborah A. Cohen
  • Christine E. Cox


A number of studies in recent years have identified both self-report and objectively measured accessibility of recreational facilities as important predictors of physical activity in youth. Yet, few studies have: (1) examined the relationship between the number and proximity of objectively measured neighborhood physical activity facilities and respondents’ perceptions and (2) compared objective and self-report measures as predictors of physical activity. This study uses data on 1,367 6th-grade girls who participated in the Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls (TAAG) to explore these issues. Girls reported whether nine different types of recreational facilities were easily accessible. These facilities included basketball courts, golf courses, martial arts studios, playing fields, tracks, skating rinks, swimming pools, tennis courts, and dance/gymnastic clubs. Next, geographic information systems (GIS) were used to identify all the parks, schools, and commercial sites for physical activity located within a mile of each girl’s home. These sites were then visited to inventory the types of facilities available. Girls wore accelerometers to measure their weekly minutes of non-school metabolic equivalent weighted moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MW-MVPA). The number of facilities within a half-mile of girls’ homes strongly predicted the perception of easy access to seven out of nine facility types. Both individual facility perceptions and the total number of facilities perceived were associated with increased physical activity. For each additional facility perceived, girls clocked 3% more metabolic equivalent weighted moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (p < 0.001). Although girls tended to record 3% more of this kind of physical activity (p < 0.05) per basketball court within a mile of their homes, objective facility measures were otherwise unrelated to physical activity. The results from this study suggest that raising the profile of existing facilities may help increase physical activity among adolescent girls.


Adolescent girls Parks Physical activity Recreational facilities Schools. 



This work was funded by NIH/NHLBI Grant #R01HL71244 and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention U48/DP000056. The TAAG Study was also funded by grants from the NIH/NHLBI (#U01HL-66845, HL-66852, HL-66853, HL-66855, HL-66856, HL-66857, and HL-66858). We would like to thank the girls who participated in the study; the project coordinators for participant recruitment; and the members of TAAG Steering Committee, including: Russell Pate, Ph.D., University of South Carolina; Deborah Rohm-Young, Ph.D., University of Maryland College Park; Leslie Lytle, Ph.D., University of Minnesota; Timothy Lohman, Ph.D., University of Arizona; Larry Webber, Ph.D., Tulane University; John Elder, Ph.D., San Diego State University; June Stevens, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Charlotte Pratt, Ph.D., National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The TAAG Steering Committee was responsible for the design, conduct, and the management of the larger TAAG study and the review and approval of this manuscript. NHLBI also reviewed and approved this paper.

Special thanks to Lisa Staten for her helpful comments on the manuscript and to Scott Ashwood and Adrian Overton for their GIS expertise and work creating the database of objective built environment measures.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Molly M. Scott
    • 1
  • Kelly R. Evenson
    • 2
  • Deborah A. Cohen
    • 1
  • Christine E. Cox
    • 2
  1. 1.The RAND CorporationArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.UNC Chapel Hill, School of Public HealthChapel HillUSA

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