Neighborhood Food Environment and Physical Activity Among U.S. Adolescents


      Few U.S. adolescents meet physical activity guidelines. Although several neighborhood characteristics influence physical activity, the role of food-related features as potential drivers of adolescent physical activity remains understudied. Using representative U.S. data, authors examined the effect of the neighborhood food environment on adolescents’ out-of-school physical activity.


      The Family Life, Activity, Sun, Health, and Eating (FLASHE) study was conducted in 2014. Secondary data analysis occurred in 2018. Multinomial logistic regression models examined associations between neighborhood availability of (1) convenience store; (2) supermarket; (3) farmer's market; (4) fast food; (5) non–fast food restaurant and adolescent out-of-school physical activity (tertile-based, low as referent). An additional association between a total aggregate neighborhood food environment score was assessed.


      Final analytic sample was 1,384 adolescents (mean age=14.5 years, SD=1.6). Controlling for free/reduced-price lunch, age, sex, race/ethnicity, and neighborhood physical activity and social environments, the aggregate food environment score was significantly associated with high physical activity (versus low tertile; OR=1.2, 95% CI=1.1, 1.3). Most individual categories of food retail outlets were significantly and directly associated with out-of-school moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity in the single food environment variable models. However, when fully adjusting for all food retail outlet categories plus confounders, they were no longer significant.


      The availability of a diverse combination of retail food destinations within walking distance from home may provide opportunities for adolescents to achieve more physical activity, likely because of transport-based physical activity. Pending future research, these findings suggest that the role of the food environment on health extends beyond its influence on dietary behaviors to other health behaviors like physical activity.
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