The neighborhood social environment and physical activity: a systematic scoping review

Maura Kepper, Candice Myers, Kara Denstel, Ruth Hunter, Win Guan, Stephanie Broyles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
138 Downloads (Pure)


Background Investigating the association of the neighborhood social environment on physical activity is complex. A systematic scoping review was performed to (1) provide an inventory of studies assessing the influence of the neighborhood social environment on physical activity since 2006; (2) describe methodologies employed; and (3) formulate recommendations for the field. Methods Two databases were searched using terms related to ‘physical activity,’ ‘neighborhood,’ and ‘social environment’ in January 2017. Eligibility criteria included: 1) physical activity as an outcome; 2) neighborhood social environment as a predictor; 3) healthy population (without diagnosed clinical condition or special population); 4) observational or experimental design. Of 1352 studies identified, 181 were included. Textual data relevant to the social environment measurement and analysis were extracted from each article into qualitative software (MAXQDA) and coded to identify social environmental constructs, measurement methods, level of measurement (individual vs. aggregated to neighborhood), and whether authors explicitly recognized the construct as the social environment. The following measures were generated for each construct: number of unique measurements; % of times measured at an aggregate level; % of times authors referred to the construct as the social environment. Social environmental constructs were then grouped into larger descriptive dimensions. Results/findings Fifty-nine social environmental constructs were identified and grouped into 9 dimensions: Crime & Safety (n = 133 studies; included in 73% of studies); Economic & Social Disadvantage (n = 55, 33%); Social Cohesion & Capital (n = 47, 26%); Social Relationships (n = 22, 12%); Social Environment (n = 16, 9%); Disorder & Incivilities (n = 15, 8%); Sense of Place/Belonging (n = 8, 4%); Discrimination/Segregation (n = 3, 2%); Civic Participation & Engagement (n = 2, 1%). Across all articles, the social environment was measured using 176 different methods, was measured at an aggregate-level 38% of the time, and referred to as the social environment 23% of the time. Conclusions 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 increase our understanding of social environmental correlates and/or determinants of physical activity and facilitate cross-disciplinary conversations necessary to effectively intervene to promote physical activity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number124
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Publication statusPublished - 09 Dec 2019

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