Although quite a bit of study has been done on the impact of urban environments on youth physical activity levels, this study aimed to fill in literature gaps, especially with regard to youth perceptions of their environment. Do urban boys and girls perceive their environment in the same way? How do these perceptions relate to the actual physical environment? And do kids from different types of urban neighborhoods perceive barriers differently?
This inquiry was two-pronged. First, neighborhood development patterns were classified based on factors determined to affect physical activity levels. Second, responses to an online questionnaire by 308 Baltimore City, Md. high school students were analyzed by gender and neighborhood type. The students were queried on their perceptions of barriers and facilitators to physical activity in their neighborhood. More than 75 percent of the respondents were African American; nearly 60 percent were girls.
These results are consistent with earlier work that found perceptions of safety of physical activity were a very important concern for adult women but not for men. Research suggests that when trying to make neighborhoods more activity-friendly for teens, it is important to consider how kids’ and, in particular, how girls perceive their environment.