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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An examination of neighbourhood built and social environment influences on child physical activity patterns VanLoon, Joshua


Trends in increasing prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity, coupled with evidence that children engage in inadequate physical activity, have prompted considerable interest in the study of correlates of child physical activity. The purpose of this thesis is to investigate potential influences of neighbourhood built and social environment characteristics on child physical activity using data corresponding to two samples of children aged 8-11, attending schools in Vancouver and the surrounding Lower Mainland region of British Columbia. This research benefits from the use of several complementary data sources, including: survey data on parent and child perceptions and travel behaviour; and, objective measures of physical activity and neighbourhood environment characteristics. A variety of analytical methods were used,including Generalized Estimating Equations to account for the clustering of students within schools resulting from a two stage sampling design. Objective measures of built environment characteristics were found to be significantly associated with average daily moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) when controlling for age, gender, ethnicity and household income. These include measures of distance to school, commercial density and intersection density. Measures based on larger spatial units were found to have the strongest associations with MVPA. When modeled as a composite built environment index these characteristics accounted for 5.0% of the variance in MVPA. This index was also significantly negatively associated with sedentary activity. In gender stratified models, different correlates were found for boys and girls, and overall built environment influences on MVPA were found to be stronger for boys than for girls. When controlling for the objective built environment index, neither parent nor child perceptions of safety contributed to explaining MVPA. The generalizability of specific results is limited by the sampling strategy used and also because of unique characteristics of the Lower Mainland region. Nonetheless, many results are consistent with findings of previous studies, providing further support for policies that promote compact, mixed use developments with high street connectivity to support physical activity. Findings also point towards several important research implications, including the need to further study how best to define neighbourhoods for the purpose of assessing environmental characteristics.

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