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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

WashU: What is the Neighborhood Social Environment?

Inconsistent definitions and measurement of the social environment of neighborhoods make it more difficult for researchers to assess environmental impacts on public health outcomes such as physical activity, according to a new study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Researchers reviewed 181 articles about the relationship between environment and exercise published since 2006. They found that the studies included different elements of the environment, such as poverty, discrimination and crime; and measured them differently.

“Physical inactivity is a major public health concern,” wrote the study’s lead author, Dr. Maura Kepper, research assistant professor at the Brown School. “This review highlights the need to further understand which social environmental factors are key influencers of physical activity.

“Inconsistent terminology, definitions, and measurement of the social environment and the lack of explicit language identifying constructs as the social environment make it challenging to compare results across studies and draw conclusions. Improvements are needed to facilitate cross-disciplinary conversations necessary to effectively intervene to promote physical activity.”

The study was published December 9 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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