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How Reliably Do Community Members Audit the Neighborhood Environment for Its Support of Physical Activity? Implications for Participatory Research

Hoehner, Christine M. PhD, MSPH; Ivy, Andrae BS; Brennan Ramirez, Laura PhD, MPH; Meriwether, Brandi MPH; Brownson, Ross C. PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: May-June 2006 - Volume 12 - Issue 3 - p 270–277
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Environmental audits are used to assess supports for physical activity in the community. Understanding the suitability of such instruments for use by community members is crucial for advocacy and participatory research. This study examined the reliability of an audit instrument filled out by trained researchers and untrained community members. Two researchers and five community members conducted environmental audits on a total of 335 street segments in lower-income areas in St Louis, Missouri (representing a “low-walkable city”), and Savannah, Georgia (representing a “high-walkable” city). The audit tool consisted of six major sections—land use environment, recreational facilities, transportation environment, aesthetics, signage, and social environment. Interrater agreement between researchers and community members was assessed using percent observed agreement and the κ statistic. According to observed agreement, the majority of audit items (67 of 76) had substantial to almost perfect agreement (≥0.60) between researchers and community members. However, much lower agreement was observed using the κ statistic (only 8 of 76 items with κs ≥0.60). With some formal training, this audit tool may be useful for advocacy and participatory research to assess the activity friendliness of neighborhood environments.

This article examines the reliability of an audit instrument in community assessment and participatory research and, on the basis of interrater agreement on the various items of the tool, suggests ways this tool can be used for advocacy and participatory research in assessing the activity friendliness of neighborhood environments.

Christine M. Hoehner, PhD, MSPH, is Assistant Professor, Department of Community Health, Saint Louis University School of Public Health, St Louis, Missouri.

Andrae Ivy, BS, is Research assistant, Department of Community Health, Saint Louis University School of Public Health, St Louis, Missouri.

Laura Brennan Ramirez, PhD, MPH, is President, Transtria, LLC, St Louis, Missouri.

Brandi Meriwether, MPH, is Scientific Review Administrator Program Analyst, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.

Ross C. Brownson, PhD, is Professor, Department of Community Health, Saint Louis University School of Public Health, St Louis, Missouri.

Corresponding author: Christine M. Hoehner, Saint Louis University School of Public Health, 3545 Lafayette Ave, St Louis, MO 63104 (e-mail: hoehnerc@slu.edu).

This study was funded through The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation contract 051603, including support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contract U48/DP000060-01 (Prevention Research Centers Program). Human subjects approval was obtained from the Saint Louis University Institutional Review Board. The authors are grateful for the assistance of Rebeka Cook, Montenia Anderson, Cheryl Kelly, Kathy McMullen, Omar Brown, Dwayne Ellis, Glen Grant, Timothy Hill, and Albert Spears in data collection and for the assistance of Michael Elliott in managing the data. They also thank C. Tracy Orleans and Marla Hollander of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for their support throughout this project.

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.