Neighborhood Environments and Physical Activity

A Longitudinal Study of Adolescents in a Natural Experiment

Published in: American Journal of Preventive Medicine [Epub March 2018]. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2018.01.030

Posted on on April 18, 2018

by Nancy Nicosia, Ashlesha Datar

Read More

Access further information on this document at Elsevier Inc

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.


Experimental and quasi-experimental evidence on the relationship between adolescents' physical activity and their physical activity environments is scarce. This study provides natural experimental evidence using within-person longitudinal variation in physical activity environments resulting from the compulsory re-assignment of military families to new installations, termed permanent changes of station.


Adolescents in Army families (N=749) reported usual weekly minutes of moderate and vigorous physical activity in 2013-2015. Objective measures of the physical activity environment, including the number of fitness and recreation facilities within 2 miles, were constructed for adolescents' neighborhoods using GIS methods. In 2017, individual-level fixed-effects models with and without a comparison group estimated the relationship between usual weekly minutes of physical activity and physical activity environments among permanent changes of station movers using within-person variation.


Increases in opportunities for physical activity were significantly and positively associated with increases in total (p<0.05) and vigorous physical activity (p<0.05) among adolescents who experienced permanent changes of station moves. The relationships were statistically significant for permanent changes of station movers living off-installation (p<0.05) and hence subject to greater variation in physical activity environments and those with more time to adjust to their new environments (p<0.05). Significant findings persisted when broader measures of physical activity environments were utilized.


The decline in physical activity and alarming obesity levels during adolescence suggest that this age may represent an important opportunity to address the obesity epidemic. This study provides evidence that increasing opportunities for physical activity may be an important pathway to improving their levels of physical activity and, consequently, obesity.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.