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Life stage and sex specificity in relationships between the built and socioeconomic environments and physical activity
  1. Janne Boone-Heinonen,
  2. Penny Gordon-Larsen
  1. Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Penny Gordon-Larsen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carolina Population Center, 123 West Franklin Street CB#8120, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-3997, USA; gordon_larsen{at}


Background In the largely cross-sectional literature, built environment characteristics such as walkability and recreation centres are variably related to physical activity. Subgroup-specific effects could help explain inconsistent findings, yet few studies have compared built environment associations by key characteristics such as sex or life stage.

Methods Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (wave I 1994–5, wave III 2001–2; n=12 701) and a linked geographic information system, cross-sectional relationships between moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) bouts and built and socioeconomic environment measures were estimated. Negative binomial generalised estimating equation regression modelled MVPA as a function of log-transformed environment measures, controlling for individual sociodemographics and testing for interactions with sex and life stage (waves I and III, when respondents were adolescents and young adults, respectively).

Results Higher landscape diversity (coefficient 0.040; 95% CI 0.019 to 0.062) and lower crime (coefficient −0.047; 95% CI −0.071 to −0.022) were related to greater weekly MVPA regardless of sex or life stage. Higher street connectivity was marginally related to lower MVPA (coefficient −0.176; 95% CI −0.357 to 0.005) in females but not males. Pay facilities and public facilities per 10 000 population and median household income were unrelated to MVPA.

Conclusions Similar relationships between higher MVPA and higher landscape diversity and lower crime rate across sex and life stage suggest that application of these environment features may benefit broad populations. Sex-specific associations for street connectivity may partly account for the variation in findings across studies and have implications for targeting physical activity promotion strategies.

  • Adolescent
  • environment design
  • epidemiology
  • physical activity
  • United States

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  • Funding This work was funded by National Institutes of Health grants R01HD057194 and R01 HD041375, R01 HD39183, and a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC SIP no 5-00), grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Active Living Research and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (R36-EH000380), and the Henry Dearman and Martha Stucker Dissertation Fellowship in the Royster Society of Fellows at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This research uses data from Add Health, a programme project designed by J Richard Udry, Peter S Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the institutional review board at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.