Perceptions of neighborhood safety : influence on engagement in physical activity by mothers and children



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Overweight and obesity are major public health concerns. These conditions are preventable through healthy diet and engagement in physical activity (PA). This study builds on existing work around the influence of perceptions of neighborhood safety on (PNS) engagement in PA. The Geographic Research on Wellbeing study includes survey data from a diverse sample of 3016 California mothers with 4-10 year old children. Structural equation modeling was used to test a multivariate assessment of PNS through confirmatory factor analysis and to test relationships between household and neighborhood level socioeconomic position (SEP), availability and safety of neighborhood parks, and children's and mothers' PA, mediated by PNS. Exploratory analyses tested the models with social cohesion as a mediator. In the children's model, neighborhood SEP was not related to children's PA. PNS partially mediated the relationship between household SEP and children's PA and fully mediated the relationship from park availability/safety to children's PA. PNS was not directly related to mother's PA. An exploratory model testing social cohesion as a mediator performed similarly to PNS in the children's PA model. In the exploratory model for mothers' PA, relationships between household SEP, neighborhood SEP and crime to PA were partially mediated by social cohesion, and the relationship between parks and PA was fully mediated by social cohesion. While the models fit well, prediction of PA was limited. The PNS and social cohesion models predicted ~4.5% of the variance in children's PA, and the social cohesion model predicted 8.3% of mothers' PA. Therefore the results of this study may have limited practical significance. This study concluded that PNS performed well as a multivariate construct. Comprehensive definitions of PNS provide more information to studies of children's PA than the often used single-dimension assessments. Results of this and other research suggest PNS is an important buffer for the effects of SEP and park access on PA among children. For mothers and children in this study social cohesion was positively associated with PA and did mediate paths from other individual and neighborhood indicators to PA. Neighborhood-level interventions to improve social cohesion are indicated to increase engagement in PA.