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A systematic review of agreement between perceived and objective neighborhood environment measures and associations with physical activity outcomes

Summary


Perceived and objective measures of neighborhood environmental factors predict physical activity at similar rates; yet, they account for differences in physical activity behaviors

This systematic review of the literature focused on studies in which at least one conceptually comparable feature of the perceived and objectively measured neighborhood environment was examined for agreement and/or associations with physical activity. Two primary aims guided the review: (1) to synthesize evidence on agreement between perceived and objective neighborhood environment measures and (2) to examine evidence of associations between comparable perceived and objective neighborhood environment variables and physical activity. Previous research indicates that perceived and objective measures of neighborhood environments may or may not reflect similar features of the environments. Previous research also documents associations between the perceived and objectively measured neighborhood environment and physical activity. Prior to this review, research findings did not indicate which of the two variables (perceived or objective) is a stronger predictor of physical activity. This review examined both the comparability of perceived and objective variables and the consistency of their associations with the same physical activity outcome.

Eighty-five studies met the inclusion criteria: (a) they included physical activity as a study variable; (b) they included objective and perceived neighborhood environment variables; and (c) they tested comparable variables for associations with physical activity. All studies were published in peer-reviewed journals between 1990 and 2015. Information abstracted from each study included research aims, theoretical framework, setting and sample characteristics, sampling approach, data collection methods, perceived and objective environment and physical activity measures, statistical analysis, key findings relevant to the aims of the review, study strengths and limitations, and implications for practice.

Most studies included participants 18 years of age or older; close to one-fourth of the studies consisted of parents of youth or youth participants (children aged 5-10 years and adolescents 10-18 years old); and only 6% focused on participants 65 years of age or older. The extent of agreement between perceived and objective neighborhood environment variables was low to moderate. The association between physical activity and perceived neighborhood environmental variables was slightly higher than the association between physical activity and objective neighborhood environmental variables.

Overall, this research presents differences between perceived and objective measures of the neighborhood environment and differences in their associations with physical activity. While results indicate that perceived and objective measures predict physical activity at similar rates, they account for unique differences in physical activity behaviors.

The authors caution against drawing conclusions about objectively measured neighborhood environmental variables based on perceived measures or vice versa. They present other implications, as well, and offer specific suggestions for further research.

Citation

Orstad, S.L., McDonough, M.H., Stapleton, S., Altincekic, C., Troped, P.J., (2017). A systematic review of agreement between perceived and objective neighborhood environment measures and associations with physical activity outcomes. Environment and Behavior, 49(8), 904-932.

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