Socioeconomic status and perceptions of access and safety for physical activity

Dawn K Wilson, Karen A Kirtland, Barbara E Ainsworth, Cheryl L Addy
Annals of Behavioral Medicine: a Publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine 2004, 28 (1): 20-8

BACKGROUND: Environmental factors may play an important role on influencing physical activity (PA) behaviors.

PURPOSE: Perceptions of access and safety for PA were compared among residents who were stratified as low or high in socioeconomic status (SES).

METHODS: Residents of a U.S. southeastern county (N = 1,194, 18-96 years of age) were contacted using a random-digit-dial method and asked about neighborhood and community environmental supports for PA. A Geographic Information System (GIS) was used to identify trails, sidewalks, public recreation facilities, and violent crime incidents.

RESULTS: A cluster analysis identified 10 census tracts as low SES and 11 census tracts as high SES (median household income, owner-occupied houses). More African Americans (66.5%) than Whites (33.5%) were classified as living in low-SES areas. Respondents from low-SES areas also reported engaging in less PA based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American College of Sports Medicine recommendations than respondents from high-SES areas (p <.05). Respondents from low-SES (vs. high-SES) areas reported higher perceptions of neighborhood crime, unattended dogs, unpleasantness of neighborhoods, untrustworthy neighbors, and less access to public recreation facilities (ps <.05). GIS data for presence of sidewalks, recreation facilities, and crime did not support these differences in perceptions; however, respondents from low-SES (vs. high-SES) areas had substantially fewer trails. Having and using trails in one's community predicted sufficient PA and walking for 150 min/week for low-SES respondents but not for high SES respondents (ps =.05, adjusted for covariates).

CONCLUSIONS: Having access to trails is an important environmental feature among low-SES communities and should be the focus of future community-based PA interventions.

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