Previous studies have also found neighborhood characteristics have an impact on healthy behaviors.
The researchers also walked around the neighborhoods and rated the condition of sidewalks and streets.
According to results published in the Journal of Public Health, people who lived near more uneven or obstructed sidewalks tended to be less active. That was especially the case for younger people.
“We found that better sidewalk condition was associated with increases in physical activity among women and men of varying socioeconomic statuses,” Kwarteng told Reuters Health.
Street condition didn’t seem to make a difference, however.
It also didn’t matter how people thought of their neighborhood – only how the sidewalks actually looked, according to the study.
Sidewalk condition is only one of many factors that may influence physical activity levels, Kwarteng said.
“An equally plausible explanation for the results is that individuals preferring to not engage in physical activity, choose to live in neighborhoods that are a bit more run-down,” Menachemi told Reuters Health in an email. Presumably that’s because it is less expensive to live there, he added.
Sidewalk quality might hint at other factors like landlord complaints to the city and financial resources, which weren’t measured here, he said.
Following a neighborhood over time and measuring if activity levels change as sidewalks deteriorate or get better would be a more reliable way of figuring out how much of an effect the sidewalks have.
“This study identifies an association between sidewalk condition and physical activity,” Menachemi said. “Further studies should try to explain why this is.”
Most prospective homeowners with the freedom to choose between neighborhoods will probably pick the one with better quality infrastructure anyway, Kwarteng said. Poor quality sidewalks become a problem when people with limited resources have little choice where to live.
“Equitable living environments should be available to all residents irrespective of their income,” she said.
“Cities should implement policies that keep sidewalks and other characteristics of pedestrian infrastructure in good condition as a step towards facilitating increases in physical activity among their residents.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1cF08y4 Journal of Public Health, online October 24, 2013.