Is a perceived supportive physical environment important for self-reported leisure time physical activity among socioeconomically disadvantaged women with poor psychosocial characteristics? An observational study

Verity J Cleland, Kylie Ball, David Crawford
BMC Public Health 2013, 13: 280

BACKGROUND: Over the past decade, studies and public health interventions that target the physical environment as an avenue for promoting physical activity have increased in number. While it appears that a supportive physical environment has a role to play in promoting physical activity, social-ecological models emphasise the importance of considering other multiple levels of influence on behaviour, including individual (e.g. self-efficacy, intentions, enjoyment) and social (e.g. social support, access to childcare) factors (psychosocial factors). However, not everyone has these physical activity-promoting psychosocial characteristics; it remains unclear what contribution the environment makes to physical activity among these groups. This study aimed to examine the association between the perceived physical environment and self-reported leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) among women living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas demonstrating different psychosocial characteristics.

METHODS: In 2007-8, 3765 women (18-45 years) randomly selected from low socioeconomic areas in Victoria, Australia, self-reported LTPA, and individual, social and physical environmental factors hypothesised within a social-ecological framework to influence LTPA. Psychosocial and environment scores were created. Associations between environment scores and categories of LTPA (overall and stratified by thirds of perceived environment scores) were examined using generalised ordered logistic regression.

RESULTS: Women with medium and high perceived environment scores had 20-38% and 44-70% greater odds respectively of achieving higher levels of LTPA than women with low environment scores. When stratified by thirds of psychosocial factor scores, these associations were largely attenuated and mostly became non-significant. However, women with the lowest psychosocial scores but medium or high environment scores had 76% and 58% higher odds respectively of achieving ≥120 minutes/week (vs. <120 minutes/week) LTPA.

CONCLUSIONS: Acknowledging the cross-sectional study design, the findings suggest that a physical environment perceived to be supportive of physical activity might help women with less favourable psychosocial characteristics achieve moderate amounts of LTPA (i.e. ≥120 minutes/week). This study provides further support for research and public health interventions to target perceptions of the physical environment as a key component of strategies to promote physical activity.

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