Hispanic Maternal and Children's Perceptions of Neighborhood Safety Related to Walking and Cycling

In a small study of the safety perceptions of inner-city Hispanic mothers and their children, mothers consistently rated their neighborhoods as less safe than their children; these maternal perceptions somewhat predicted the physical activity level of their children.

The physical activity of inner-city children—and thus, the general health and weight status of inner-city children—is often hampered by the perceived safety of their neighborhoods. In 2008–2009, researchers asked 102 pairs of Hispanic mothers and children (average age of 10 years) who lived in inner-city Houston to rate the safety of their neighborhood based on eight factors related to children’s walking and cycling: 1) too much traffic; 2) cars going too fast; 3) no sidewalks; 4) no signals at crosswalks; 5) no lighting; 6) gangs; 7) strangers; and 8) stray dogs. In addition, the moderate-to-vigorous-physical activity (MVPA) of the children was measured.

Key Findings:

  • In every factor, the mothers rated their neighborhood significantly less safe than their children did.
  • Mothers were most concerned about traffic factors and children were most concerned about stray dogs and strangers. Both mothers and children were least concerned about a lack of lighting.
  • The mothers’ perceptions somewhat better explained the level of their children’s MVPA than the children’s perceptions.
  • Mothers of more active children—who are more likely to be active themselves and therefore, “out and about”—were more concerned about gangs than other mothers, perhaps reflecting their better informed view of the neighborhood.

The authors underline that it is not known whether the perceptions of either these mothers or children accurately reflect the dangers of the neighborhood; this is among the many avenues of additional research indicated as needed by this small, limited study. But the researchers also note that some of the underlying conditions reflected in these fears, such as the lack of crosswalks, can be easily and permanently rectified.