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Where Are Youth Active? Roles of Proximity, Active Transport, and Built Environment


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 12 - p 2071-2079
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181817baa
BASIC SCIENCES: Epidemiology

Purpose: This study examined factors related to two sources of physical activity for youth: active use of recreation sites and active transport to recreation sites.

Methods: Parents of children (n = 87) and matched pairs of parents and adolescents (n = 124 pairs) in three US cities reported on youths' active use of, proximity to, and walking/biking to 12 recreation sites and on neighborhood walkability and safety. Multivariate regression models evaluated factors associated with youths' frequent site use and active transport to sites.

Results: Proximity to the site was associated with frequent use of large parks and public open space. Walking/biking to the site was associated with frequent use of most sites (indoor recreation sites, small and large parks, basketball courts, walking/running tracks, school recreation sites, playgrounds, and public open space). After controlling for proximity and demographic factors, active transport to sites remained significantly associated (P < 0.05) with frequent use of four sites for children (indoor recreation, walking/running tracks, school recreation facilities, and public open space) and all but three sites for adolescents (indoor recreation, playfields/courts, and beach/lake/rivers). Adolescents' active transport to more sites was most positively related to higher perceived traffic safety and to better pedestrian infrastructure and was negatively related to crime threat. Adolescents with driver's licenses walked/biked to recreation sites less often.

Conclusions: Active transport was strongly associated with the use of multiple recreation sites by children and adolescents, even when accounting for proximity and demographic factors. Adolescents living in neighborhoods with better traffic safety walked/biked to more recreation sites for physical activity. Findings support the need for built environments and transportation policies that facilitate safe, active transport to recreation sites for youth physical activity.

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; 2Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA; 3University of Alabama School of Medicine, Birmingham, AL; and 4Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA

Address for correspondence: Helene Mollie Grow, M.D., Child Health Institute, University of Washington, Box 354920, Seattle, WA 98195-4920; E-mail:

Submitted for publication January 2008.

Accepted for publication May 2008.

©2008The American College of Sports Medicine