Love thy neighbour? Associations of social capital and crime with physical activity amongst women

Kylie Ball, Verity J Cleland, Anna F Timperio, Jo Salmon, Billie Giles-Corti, David A Crawford
Social Science & Medicine 2010, 71 (4): 807-14
Using a multilevel study design, this study examined the associations between social characteristics of individuals and neighbourhoods and physical activity among women. Women (n = 1405) recruited from 45 Melbourne (Australia) neighbourhoods of varying socioeconomic disadvantage provided data on social factors and leisure-time: physical activity; walking; and walking in one's own neighbourhood. Individual level social factors were number of neighbours known and social participation. Neighbourhood-level social characteristics (interpersonal trust, norms of reciprocity, social cohesion) were derived by aggregating survey data on these constructs within neighbourhoods. Objective data on crimes within neighbourhoods were obtained from Victoria Police. In bivariable regression models, all social variables at both the individual and neighbourhood level were positively associated with odds of physical activity, walking, and walking in one's own neighbourhood. Associations with individual social participation (associated with all three physical activity variables) and neighbourhood interpersonal trust (associated with overall physical activity only) remained significant in multivariable models. Neither neighbourhood crime against the person nor incivilities were associated with any form of physical activity. These results demonstrate that women who participated in local groups or events and, less consistently, women living in neighbourhoods where residents trusted one another, were more likely to participate in leisure-time physical activity. While redressing macro-level social and economic policies that contribute to neighbourhood inequalities remains a priority, public health initiatives aimed at promoting physical activity could consider focusing on fostering social interactions targeting both individuals and communities. Further investigation of causal mechanisms underlying these associations is required.

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