Would you go for a walk around the block or in a local park if you thought your neighborhood unsafe and you would be in danger? At BEH, we care a lot about understanding constraints on outdoor physical activity, including (maybe) safety.
The link between neighborhood safety and physical activity has been tricky to assess, in part because physical activity is tricky to measure (questionnaires are vulnerable to reporting biases and don’t capture small-scale differences in activity between people whereas accelerometers and other activity trackers are sensitive to proper positioning), and in part because no single construct completely represents neighborhood safety – some researchers study fear of victimization, others study crime rates, and still others study aesthetic features such as disorder that may affect the perception that a neighborhood is unsafe.
We recently investigated several measures of safety, including self-reported neighborhood safety, crime rates, and a measure of neighborhood disorder we constructed using Street View imagery in relation to accelerometer-measured and self-reported physical activity, using data from the Physical Activity and Transit survey undertaken by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. We found that independently observed measures of neighborhood safety and disorder were not associated with any measures of physical activity, but that reporting the neighborhood to be unsafe was associated with increased odds of reporting no recreational physical activity.
The initial results of our work were presented as a poster at the recent annual meeting of the Population Association of America.