The nicer their neighbourhood sidewalks,
the more active people tend to be, according to a new study from Detroit.
Previous studies have also found neighbourhood
characteristics have an impact on healthy behaviours.
"While a number of studies have looked
at the presence of sidewalks and their association with physical activity, very
few have examined the condition of the sidewalk," said Jamila L Kwarteng.
She led the new study at the University of
Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor. Kwarteng and her co-authors
surveyed 919 adults in poor and middle-class neighbourhoods in Detroit, asking
them how much they exercised and how often.
The researchers also walked around the neighbourhoods
and rated the condition of sidewalks and streets. According to results
published in the Journal of Public Health, people who lived near more uneven or
obstructed sidewalks tended to be less active.
One possible interpretation
That was especially the case for younger
people. "We found that better sidewalk condition was associated with
increases in physical activity among women and men of varying socioeconomic
statuses," Kwarteng told Reuters Health.
Street condition didn't seem to make a
difference, however. It also didn't matter what people thought of their neighbourhood – only how the sidewalks actually looked, according to the study. Sidewalk
condition is only one of many factors that may influence physical activity
levels, Kwarteng said.
Nir Menachemi said although it is possible
sidewalk conditions affect how much time people spend outside being active,
that is only one possible interpretation.
"An equally plausible explanation for
the results is that individuals preferring to not engage in physical activity
choose to live in neighbourhoods that are a bit more run-down," Menachemi
told Reuters Health. Presumably that's because it is less expensive
to live there, he added.
Menachemi heads the University of Alabama
at Birmingham Doctor of Public Health Programme and was not involved with the new
People with limited resources
Sidewalk quality might hint at other
factors like landlord complaints to the city and financial resources, which weren't
measured here, he said.
Following a neighbourhood over time and
measuring if activity levels change as sidewalks deteriorate or get better
would be a more reliable way of figuring out how much of an effect the
sidewalks have. "This study identifies an association between sidewalk
condition and physical activity," Menachemi said.
Further studies should try to explain
why this is. "Most prospective homeowners with the freedom to choose
between neighbourhoods will probably pick the one with better quality infrastructure
anyway," Kwarteng said.
quality sidewalks become a problem when people with limited resources have
little choice where to live.
"Equitable living environments should
be available to all residents irrespective of their income," she
said. "Cities should implement policies that keep sidewalks and other
characteristics of pedestrian infrastructure in good condition as a step
towards facilitating increases in physical activity among their