This old house may put its occupants on path to good health

July 23, 2002

Residents of urban and suburban homes built before 1974 are much more likely than residents of newer homes to walk a mile or more at least 20 times each month, according to new research.

"Neighborhoods containing older homes in urban areas are more likely to have sidewalks, have denser interconnected networks of streets and often display a mix of business and residential uses," suggests David Berrigan, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute. The study appears in an August supplement of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine on the subject of physical activity.

Berrigan and his colleague, Dr. Richard Troiano, analyzed data from a national survey of 17,030 adults, looking at data on respondents' walking behavior, leisure-time physical activity, demographic characteristics and health limitations, as well as their home's age and locale (suburban/urban or rural).

The study used the age of individual respondents' homes to approximate a measure of "urban form," composed of a complex variety of components characterizing the layout and predominant structure type of an area. Researchers analyzed home age, they said, because it is "associated with density, street design and building characteristics."

Berrigan notes, "Understanding associations between urban form and transportation choices influencing physical activity levels is important for public health because of the possibility that planning decisions could influence physical activity and therefore health."

Respondents in the survey used by the researchers were a representative sample of the U.S. population. Berrigan found that men and non-Hispanic whites were more likely than women and other racial and ethnic groups to walk at least a mile 20 or more times a month.

The researchers note that the home age and walking behavior correlation was not found in rural counties, suggesting that home age and "walkability" of neighborhoods are only associated in urban and suburban counties. "Regardless of age," they write, "homes in rural environments may be too distant from desirable destinations for walking."

Berrigan points out that a weakness of his study is that "individuals may select neighborhoods based on their preferences for walkable environments rather than walking more because of the neighborhood environment." Also, the study includes data on ages of individual respondents' homes, rather than mean home ages of blocks or neighborhoods, which the researchers say may be a strength in its precision or a weakness in that mean data may give a more precise picture of neighborhood characteristics.
The study was supported in part by a cancer prevention fellowship from the National Cancer Institute.

Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or
Interviews: Contact the National Cancer Institute Press Office at (301) 496-6641
American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (619) 594-7344.

Center for Advancing Health

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