Comparing Perceived and Objectively Measured Access to Recreational Facilities as Predictors of Physical Activity in Adolescent Girls

Published in: Journal of Urban Health, v. 84, no. 3, May 2007, p. 346-359

Posted on on January 01, 2007

by Molly M. Scott, Kelly R. Evenson, Deborah A. Cohen, Christine E. Cox

A number of studies in recent years have identified both self-report and objectively measured accessibility of recreational facilities as important predictors of physical activity in youth. Yet, few studies have: (1) examined the relationship between the number and proximity of objectively measured neighborhood physical activity facilities and respondents' perceptions and (2) compared objective and self-report measures as predictors of physical activity. This study uses data on 1,367 6th-grade girls who participated in the Trial of Activity for Adolescent Girls (TAAG) to explore these issues. Girls reported whether nine different types of recreational facilities were easily accessible. These facilities included basketball courts, golf courses, martial arts studios, playing fields, tracks, skating rinks, swimming pools, tennis courts, and dance/gymnastic clubs. Next, geographic information systems (GIS) were used to identify all the parks, schools, and commercial sites for physical activity located within a mile of each girl's home. These sites were then visited to inventory the types of facilities available. Girls wore accelerometers to measure their weekly minutes of non-school metabolic equivalent weighted moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MW-MVPA). The number of facilities within a half-mile of girls' homes strongly predicted the perception of easy access to seven out of nine facility types. Both individual facility perceptions and the total number of facilities perceived were associated with increased physical activity. For each additional facility perceived, girls clocked 3% more metabolic equivalent weighted moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (p < 0.001). Although girls tended to record 3% more of this kind of physical activity (p < 0.05) per basketball court within a mile of their homes, objective facility measures were otherwise unrelated to physical activity. The results from this study suggest that raising the profile of existing facilities may help increase physical activity among adolescent girls.

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