Evaluation of spatial analysis methods for adolescents' outdoor environment in physical activity research : how the environment affords physical activity in adolescents
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The importance of physical activity in health promotion is an extensively researched topic. Several aspects of the environment contribute to the development of physical activity behavior, one of which is the physical environment. Studies investigating associations between the outdoor environment and physical activity focus mainly on details of the environment, such as residential density, land use mix, road network characteristics or accessible facilities. The landscape approach can give a more complex understanding of outdoor environmental factors that might influence physical activity behavior. The methodology for incorporating the landscape approach in physical activity research was developed in a comprehensive research project within which I accomplished my PhD study. This main project aimed to explore how the physical environment might influence physical behavior in 14-year-old children. Two schools and their neighborhoods in different landscapes were the case areas, in the same municipality. The sample consisted of 121 14-year-old adolescents. We collected objectively measured and self-reported physical data. Landscape characteristics were developed from those themes of the physical environment that might have an influence on physical activity behavior. I analyzed the physical activity patterns and activity levels in relation to the landscape and found landscape-specific physical activity patterns. The application of multiple methods in the main research project triggered my curiosity and I wanted to find out how the methods functioned together. The main objective of my study was to evaluate a spatial analysis method for adolescents’ physical activity. A further, additional aim was to explore how the landscape approach contributed to physical activity research. The two main questions to explore were: How did the multiple methods approach succeed in describing and analyzing adolescents’ physical activity in landscapes? How does the landscape approach contribute to physical activity research? In order to answer these questions I derived assessment methodology from general research evaluation and physical activity research assessment practice. I analyzed the practical applicability, trustworthiness and relevance of the methods. The combination of objective (global positioning system [GPS] heart rate monitoring) and self-reported (mapping survey) methods for collecting physical activity data and landscape characterization seems to be promising for interpreting physical activity patterns on the landscape scale. Landscape characterization was a suitable method to incorporate the selected detailed characteristics of the physical environment and to demonstrate the variation of the landscape in the whole neighborhood. The findings from the main research project (i.e. landscape-specific physical activity patterns) demonstrated that with landscape-level interpretation of physical activity behavior, it was possible to bring a new approach to physical activity research. Nevertheless, to increase credibility and reliability, further development of the method and testing it in other cases and in larger samples would be necessary.