The physical environment as an influence of walking in the neighbourhood: objective measurement and validation

Vincent Learnihan

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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Over the last decade, there has been rapid growth in research into the influence of the physical environment on physical activity. Previously, individual and social factors dominated research into the influences of physical activity. This new area of study has been built on the understanding that the physical environment may create an opportunity or a barrier to engagement in physical activity behaviours (Sallis & Owen, 1997). This research develops objectively measured features of the physical environment in order to investigate relationships with walking behaviour. Public health research of this nature is still at a preliminary stage, although research expertise outside of public health including transportation, urban planning and geographic information science has much to contribute to this emerging field. This study investigated walking in the neighbourhood in a sample of adults residing in Perth, Western Australia. Objective measurement of the physical environment using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) was conducted including measurement of street connectivity, residential density, land use mix and retail floor area ratio at three different geographic scales (suburb, census collection district, 15 minute walk from a survey participants home). These measures were then combined into an index known as a walkability index and validated against survey participant reported data on walking within the neighbourhood using binary logistic regression. Among other findings, the evidence presented shows that depending on which geographic scale the physical environment is measured at and what type of walking in the neighbourhood is reported, the strength of relationship varies between an objectively measured walkability index and walking behaviour in the neighbourhood. These findings highlight the need to differentiate between walking for transport and walking for recreation, health and exercise when investigating the relationship between physical activity and the environment. These findings also show the importance of geographic scale of measurement in the relationship between physical activity and the physical environment, and the need for current high quality geographic data in this type of research.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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