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Research Project: Improving Nutrition and Physical Activity Related Health Behaviors in Children and Their Environment

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Title: Assessment of neighborhood street characteristics related to physical activity in the Lower Mississippi Delta

Author
item Thomson, Jessica
item Goodman, Melissa
item Landry, Alicia - University Of Central Arkansas

Submitted to: Health Promotion Perspectives
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/17/2018
Publication Date: 1/23/2019
Citation: Thomson, J.L., Goodman, M.H., Landry, A.S. 2019. Assessment of neighborhood street characteristics related to physical activity in the Lower Mississippi Delta. Health Promotion Perspectives. 9(1):23-30.

Interpretive Summary: Walking, the most common form of physical activity in the United States, is an excellent way for individuals to become more active and improve their health. Increasing the number of adults who walk, particularly women living in rural communities, may help reducing the burden of chronic diseases and premature deaths associated with low levels of physical activity. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore physical activity related characteristics of the neighborhood street environment that might have contributed to the low levels of physical activity observed among participants of the Delta Healthy Sprouts Project. The Project was designed to test the comparative impact of two maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting curricula on health behaviors of women and their infants living in the rural Lower Mississippi Delta. Street segments within one-fourth mile of a participant’s home were measured using the Rural Active Living Assessment’s Street Segment tool. On average, street segments were 0.22 miles in length. All street segments had flat terrain with residential, open spaces, and public/civic as the primary land uses. Approximately three-fourths of the street segments did not have any sidewalks, pedestrian signage, or posted speed limit signs, although most segments did have stop signs and street lighting. In conclusion, neighborhood street segments surrounding Delta Healthy Sprouts participants’ homes were walkable and aesthetically pleasing. However, safety features such as sidewalks, pedestrian signage, and posted speed limit signs were lacking. It may be that walking among residents of rural communities will not increase until infrastructure changes occur that make walking both safe and convenient for all individuals.

Technical Abstract: Background: Physical activity levels were low for pregnant and postpartum participants in a diet and physical activity intervention. To explore micro level characteristics of participants’ neighborhoods related to physical activity, an ancillary study was conducted. Methods: This cross-sectional study encompassed the neighborhood street segments of women participating in a diet and physical activity intervention that was conducted in the Lower Mississippi Delta. A neighborhood was defined as all street segments within one-fourth walking mile of a participant’s home address. Street segments were measured using the Rural Active Living Assessment’s Street Segment Assessment tool. In the field and on foot, raters measured street segments using neighborhood maps with segments identified. Results: Mean street segment length was 0.22 miles (standard deviation = 0.14). All segments had flat terrain with residential (98%), open spaces (74%), and public/civic (34%) as the most prevalent land uses. Almost three-fourths of segments did not have any sidewalks (69%), sidewalk buffers or defined shoulders (73%), crosswalks or pedestrian signage (69%), or posted speed limits (74%). However, 88% had stop signs and almost all (96%) had street lighting and were paved multi-lane roads (95%) with low traffic volume (90%). Most residential structures present were single family detached homes (95%) and the most common public/civic and commercial structures were churches (24%) and convenience stores (9%), respectively. Almost all of the street segments were rated as walkable (99%) and aesthetically pleasing (94%). Conclusion: Neighborhood street segments surrounding Delta Healthy Sprouts participants’ homes were walkable and aesthetically pleasing. However, safety features such as sidewalks, pedestrian signage, and posted speed limit signs were lacking. To address these inadequate pedestrian safety features, infrastructure changes are needed for small rural towns.