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Associations Between the Neighborhood Environment and Moderate-to-Vigorous Walking in New Zealand Children: Findings from the URBAN Study

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Abstract

Background

Urban design may affect children’s habitual physical activity by influencing active commuting and neighborhood play.

Purpose

Our objective was to examine associations between neighborhood built-environment features near children’s homes and objectively measured physical activity.

Methods

We used geographical information system (GIS) protocols to select 2016 households from 48 low- and high-walkability neighborhoods within four New Zealand cities. Children (n = 227; mean age ± standard deviation [SD] 9.3 ± 2.1 years) from the selected households wore accelerometers that recorded physical activity in the period 2008–2010. We used multilevel linear models to examine the associations of GIS and street-audit measures, using the systematic pedestrian and cycling environmental scan (SPACES), of the residential environment (ranked into tertiles) on children’s hourly step counts and proportions of time spent at moderate-to-vigorous intensity on school and non-school days.

Results

During school-travel times (8:00–8:59 a.m. and 15:00–15:59 p.m.), children in the mid-tertile distance from school (~1 to 2 km) were more active than children with shorter or longer commute distances (1290 vs. 1130 and 1140 steps·h−1; true between-child SD 440). After school (16:00–17:59 p.m.), children residing closest to school were more active (890 vs. 800 and 790 steps·h−1; SD 310). Neighborhoods with more green space, attractive streets, or low-walkability streets showed a moderate positive association on non-school day moderate-to-vigorous steps, whereas neighborhoods with additional pedestrian infrastructure or more food outlets showed moderate negative associations. Other associations of residential neighborhoods were unclear but, at most, small.

Conclusions

Designing the urban environment to promote safe child-pedestrian roaming may increase children’s moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

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Fig. 1

Reproduced from Pikora et al. [30], with permission

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand (Grant Numbers: 07/356 and 08/048). Leslie J Mc Grath received a 3-year PhD scholarship of $NZ25,000 p.a., funded by the HRC of New Zealand (Grant Number: 07/356). The funding bodies were not involved in the design, conduct, data collection, management, or publication of the study. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the participants who completed the study, research assistants who collected the data, and the territorial authorities for providing the GIS datasets.

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Correspondence to Erica A. Hinckson.

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Leslie J Mc Grath, Erica A. Hinckson, Will G. Hopkins, Suzanne Mavoa, Karen Witten, and Grant Schofield declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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‘Designing environments to enhance physical and psychological benefits of physical activity: A multi-disciplinary perspective’ (Collection Editors: Eric Brymer, Keith Davids).

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McGrath, L.J., Hinckson, E.A., Hopkins, W.G. et al. Associations Between the Neighborhood Environment and Moderate-to-Vigorous Walking in New Zealand Children: Findings from the URBAN Study. Sports Med 46, 1003–1017 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0533-x

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