Neighborhood Disorder, Perceived Safety, and Readiness to Encourage Use of Local Playgrounds

  • Rebecca Miles
    Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rebecca Miles, PhD, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Florida State University, Tallahassee FL 32306-2280.
    Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
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      Knowledge of the association between the neighborhood physical environment and adults’ readiness to encourage children’s use of local playgrounds, and the extent to which perceived safety acts as a mediator, can inform efforts to increase children’s physical activity.


      Data were obtained from seven European cities based on a cross-sectional household survey conducted between 2001 and 2002. The sample included 2123 household informants (from a total of 2782 households) with a median age of 48 years; 65% were women, 66% were married, and 33% had achieved a secondary education. Indicators of local neighborhood physical disorder (litter, graffiti, lack of greenery), traffic volume, and land use were directly observed by trained surveyors. Perceived safety, encouragement of playground use, and physical activity levels were assessed with self-reported measures. Analyses were conducted in 2007.


      Respondents in neighborhoods showing signs of low or moderate physical disorder compared to high physical disorder had slightly over twice the odds of encouraging children to use local playgrounds (p<0.01). The percentage of the effect of neighborhood physical disorder accounted for by perceived safety was between 15% and 20%. Neighborhood physical disorder was associated only with adults’ occasional involvement in sports or exercise and only among women (p<0.05); perceived safety was not significantly associated with physical activity for either men or women.


      Neighborhood physical environments and perceived safety influence adults’ readiness to encourage children’s physical activity and women’s occasional involvement in sports or exercise. Health promotion strategies designed to upgrade the environments near where children live and to address parental safety concerns merit further exploration.
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