of the built environment affect different types of physical activity in a number of ways. For example, the distance from home to school or to the soccer field is a key factor in whether children walk or bicycle to these places rather than being driven (Handy and Tal, 2008; Kerr et al., 2006; McDonald, 2007). Safety along the route, whether from traffic or “stranger danger,” is also important (Carver et al., 2008; Davison and Lawson, 2006). The design of neighborhoods influences outdoor play outside of the school day. Access to parks and other safe places to play, for example, is associated with more frequent outdoor play (Davison and Lawson, 2006; Mota et al., 2005). If there are safe and appealing opportunities to walk, bicycle, play, or otherwise move outdoors, thus creating an environment that promotes physical activity, children are likely to engage in more physical activity.
A number of the elements that constitute beneficial built and social environments—such as good sidewalks, low-speed streets, attractive greenspaces, nearby trails, easily accessible recreation centers, people visible walking or playing outdoors, and low crime rates—often are characteristic of communities with higher socioeconomic status (SES). Lower-SES communities often must deal with the negative aspects of the environment, such as busy through streets, poor-quality bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, dilapidated parks and playgrounds, and crime, that deter physical activity (Black and Macinko, 2008; Booth et al., 2005). In addition to low SES, a high concentration of minority populations is a predictor for such disparities. Neighborhoods with large Hispanic and African American populations, for example, are less likely to have public parks and private recreation facilities (Gordon-Larsen et al., 2006). Lack of availability of facilities that enable and promote physical activity may, in part, explain the lower levels of activity observed among low-SES and minority communities (Powell et al., 2006), as may hazardous conditions such as crime (Seefeldt et al., 2002). Therefore, as discussed in Chapter 3, local governments should make low-SES and minority neighborhoods a priority when implementing the action steps outlined in this chapter to address disparities in the built and social environments.
Local governments have an important role to play in supporting and promoting physical activity, in large part through their influence on the built environment, but through other means as well. Local governments, particularly cities, have