Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 154–167 | Cite as

Urban–Rural Differences in Physical Activity in Belgian Adults and the Importance of Psychosocial Factors

  • Delfien Van DyckEmail author
  • Greet Cardon
  • Benedicte Deforche
  • Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij


Recent research in urban planning and public health has drawn attention to the associations between urban form and physical activity in adults. Because little is known on the urban–rural differences in physical activity, the main aims of the present study were to examine differences in physical activity between urban and rural adults and to investigate the moderating effects of the physical environment on the relationship between psychosocial factors and physical activity. In Flanders, Belgium, five rural and five urban neighborhoods were selected. A sample of 350 adults (20–65 years of age; 35 adults per neighborhood) participated in the study. Participants wore a pedometer for 7 days, and self-reported physical activity and psychosocial data were also collected. Results showed that urban adults took more steps/day and reported more walking and cycling for transport in the neighborhood, more recreational walking in the neighborhood, and more walking for transportation outside the neighborhood than rural adults. Rural adults reported more recreational cycling in the neighborhoods. The physical environment was a significant moderator of the associations between several psychosocial factors (modeling from family, self-efficacy, and perceived barriers) and physical activity. In rural participants, adults with psychosocial scores above average were more physically active, whereas there were no differences in physical activity according to psychosocial factors in urban participants. These results are promising and plead for the development of multidimensional interventions, targeting specific population subgroups. In rural environments, where changing the environment would be a very challenging task, interventions focusing on modifiable psychosocial constructs could possibly be effective.


Physical activity Physical environment Adults Psychosocial factors 


  1. 1.
    European Commission. Eurobarometer physical activity, special eurobarometer 183-6, Wave 58.2, European Opinion Research Group EEIG, Directorate General Health and Consumer Protection and Directorate General Press and Communication. 2003; 1–49.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Haskell WL, Min Lee I, Pate RR, et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007; 39(8): 1423–1434.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity and health: a report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; 1996.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Spence JC, Lee RE. Toward a comprehensive model of physical activity. Psychol Sport Exerc. 2003; 4(1): 7–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sallis JF, Owen N, Fisher EB. Ecological models of health behavior. In: Glanz K, Rimer BK, Viswanath K, eds. Health behavior and health education: theory, research and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 2008: 465–486.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Frank LD, Engelke PO, Schmid TL. Health and community design: the impact of the built environment on physical activity. Washington, DC: Island; 2003.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ewing R, Schmid T, Killingsworth R, Zlot A, Raudenbush S. Relationship between urban sprawl and physical activity, obesity and morbidity. Am J Health Promot. 2003; 18(1): 47–57.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Owen N, Cerin E, Leslie E, et al. Neighborhood walkability and the walking behavior of Australian adults. Am J Prev Med. 2007; 33(5): 387–395.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Sallis JF, Saelens BE, Frank LD, et al. Neighborhood built environment and income: examining multiple health outcomes. Soc Sci Med. 2009; 68(7): 1285–1293.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Van Dyck D, Cardon G, Deforche B, Sallis JF, Owen N, De Bourdeaudhuij I. Neighborhood SES and walkability are related to physical activity behaviour in Belgian adults. Prev Med. 2010; 50(S1): S74–S77.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Saelens BE, Sallis JF, Frank LD. Environmental correlates of walking and cycling: findings from transportation, urban design and planning literatures. Ann Behav Med. 2003; 25(2): 80–91.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Handy SL, Boarnet MG, Ewing R, Killingsworth RE. How the built environment affects physical activity: views from urban planning. Am J Prev Med. 2002; 23(2): 64–73.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Savitch HV. How suburban sprawl shapes human well-being. J Urban Health. 2003; 80(4): 590–607.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Frank LD. Land use and transportation interaction: implications on public health and quality of life. J Planning Educ Research. 2000; 20(1): 6–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Leslie E, McCrea R, Cerin E, Stimson R. Regional variations in walking for different purposes: the South East Queensland quality of life study. Environ Behav. 2007; 39(4): 557–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Joshu CE, Boehmer TK, Brownson RC, Ewing R. Personal, neighbourhood and urban factors associated with obesity in the United States. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2008; 62(3): 202–208.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Wilcox S, Castro C, King AC, Housemann R, Ross C. Determinants of leisure time physical activity in rural compared with urban older and ethnically diverse women in the United States. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2000; 54(9): 667–672.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Reis JP, Bowles HR, Ainsworth BE, Dubose KD, Smith S, Laditka JN. Nonoccupational physical activity activity by degree of urbanization and US geographic region. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; 36(12): 2093–2098.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Eyler AA, Brownson RC, Bacak SJ, Housemann RA. The epidemiology of walking for physical activity in the United States. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003; 35(9): 1529–1536.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Denavas-Walt C, Proctor BD, Smith JC. Census Bureau, current population reports, 60–236, income poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States: 2008, US Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 2009.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Trost SG, Owen N, Bauman AE, Sallis JF, Brown W. Correlates of adults’ participation in physical activity: review and update. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002; 34(12): 1996–2001.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Arnadottir SA, Gunnarsdottir ED, Lundin-Olsson L. Are rural older Icelanders less physically active than those living in urban areas? A population-based study. Scand J Public Health. 2009; 37(4): 409–417.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    National Intitute of Statistics (Belgium), 2008:, FOD Economie-Algemene Directie Statistiek.
  24. 24.
    Parks SE, Housemann RA, Brownson RC. Differential correlates of physical activity in urban and rural adults of various socioeconomic backgrounds in the United States. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2003; 57(1): 29–35.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Van Dyck D, Deforche B, Cardon G, De Bourdeaudhuij I. Neighbourhood walkability and its particular importance for adults with a preference for passive transport. Health Place. 2009; 15(2): 496–504.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Leslie E, Coffee N, Frank L, Owen N, Bauman A, Hugo G. Walkability of local communities: using geographic information systems to objectively assess relevant environmental attributes. Health Place. 2007; 13(1): 111–122.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Giles-Corti B, Timperio A, Cutt H, et al. Development of a reliable measure of walking within and outside the local neighbourhood: RESIDE’s Neighborhood Physical Activity Questionnaire. Prev Med. 2006; 42(6): 455–459.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    De Bourdeaudhuij I, Sallis JF. Relative contribution of psychosocial variables to the explanation of physical activity in three population-based adult samples. Prev Med. 2002; 34(2): 279–288.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Welk GJ, Differding JA, Thompson RW, Blair SN, Dziura J, Hart P. The utility of the Digi-Walker step counter to assess daily physical activity patterns. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000; 32(9): S481–S488.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Schneider PL, Crouter SE, Lukajic O, Bassett DR. Accuracy and reliability of 10 pedometers for measuring steps over a 400-m walk. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003; 35(10): 1779–1784.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    De Cocker K, Cardon G, De Bourdeaudhuij I. Pedometer-determined physical activity and its comparison with the International Physical Activity Questionnaire in a sample of Belgian adults. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2007; 78(5): 429–437.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Miller R, Brown W, Tudor-Locke C. But what about swimming and cycling? How to count non-ambulatory activity when using pedometers to assess physical activity? J Phys Act Health. 2006; 3(3): 257–266.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Tudor-Locke C, Ham SA, Macera CA, et al. Descriptive epidemiology of pedometer-determined physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; 36(9): 1567–1573.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Craig CL, Marshall AL, Sjöström M, et al. International Physical Activity Questionnaire: 12-country reliability and validity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003; 35(8): 1381–1395.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Deforche B, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Tanghe A, Hills AP, De Bode P. Changes in physical activity and psychosocial determinants of physical activity in children and adolescents treated for obesity. Patient Educ Couns. 2004; 55(3): 407–415.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    De Bourdeaudhuij I, Lefevre J, Deforche B, Wijndaele K, Matton L, Philippaerts R. Physical activity and psychosocial correlates in normal and overweight 11 to 19 year olds. Obes Rev. 2005; 13(6): 1097–1105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Keene ON. The log transformation is special. Stat Med. 1995; 14(8): 811–819.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Vojnovic I. Building communities to promote physical activity: a multi-scale geographical analysis. Geogr Ann. 2006; 88(1): 67–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Giles-Corti B. People or places, what should be the target? J Sci Med Sport. 2006; 9(5): 357–366.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Booth M, Owen N, Bauman A, Clavisi O, Leslie E. Social-cognitive and perceived environmental factors associated with physical activity in older Australians. Prev Med. 2000; 31(1): 15–22.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Delfien Van Dyck
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Greet Cardon
    • 2
  • Benedicte Deforche
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij
    • 2
  1. 1.Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO)FlandersBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Movement and Sports SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Human Biometrics and BiomechanicsVrije Universiteit BrusselsBrusselsBelgium

Personalised recommendations