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Perceived barriers to walking in the neighbourhood environment and change in physical activity levels over 12 months
  1. Jill Dawson1,
  2. Melvyn Hillsdon2,
  3. Irene Boller3,
  4. Charlie Foster1
  1. 1
    Division of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2
    Department of Exercise and Health Sciences, University of Bristol, Centre for Sport, Exercise and Health, Bristol, UK
  3. 3
    School of Health AND Social Care, Oxford Brookes University, Marston Road Campus, Oxford, UK
  1. Dr J Dawson, Division of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Oxford, Old Road, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK; jill.dawson{at}


Objectives: To investigate whether, and to what extent, perceived barriers to neighbourhood walking (BTNW) may be associated with physical activity levels.

Design: Prospective survey with 12-month follow-up.

Subjects and methods: 750 people attending walking schemes throughout England and Scotland; 551 completed the follow-up. independent variables were demographic characteristics, examples of possible “external” barriers to walking—for example, “worries about personal safety”, and one item concerning ill health. The main outcome measures were “metabolic equivalent” (MET) hours’ walking and overall physical activity in the preceding week.

Results: Baseline and follow-up demographic characteristics were similar and physical activity levels generally high. Leisure walking changed little over 12 months, while total physical activity levels reduced significantly from a mean (SD) of 71.26 (78.14) MET hours per week at baseline to 59.57 (181.40) at the 12-month follow-up (p<0.001). External BTNW cited between baseline and 12 months increased significantly from a mean (SD) of 1.24 (1.61) at baseline to 1.43 (1.72) at the 12-month follow-up (p<0.001); only “worries about personal safety” reduced. A significant association was found between citing a health-related BTNW and the total number of external BTNW that were reported at baseline. The strength of this association increased over 12 months. Neither changes in reporting external BTNW that occurred over 12 months (increased vs decreased, vs unchanged) nor changes in the presence of a health-related BTNW were significantly related to levels of leisure walking and overall physical activity (MET hours in the preceding week) over the same period.

Conclusion: Among older people who attended walking schemes, having a health problem that restricted walking had a detrimental influence on people’s perceptions about external BTNW, which increased over time. Actual levels of walking and overall physical activity levels did not appear to be significantly affected by this.

  • barriers to walking
  • neighbourhood
  • physical activity levels
  • longitudinal
  • survey

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  • Funding: This study was generously funded by the Countryside Agency in partnership with the British Heart Foundation and New Opportunities Scheme.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Abbreviations:
    barrier(s) to neighbourhood walking
    Index of Multiple Deprivation
    “Paths to Health” project
    “Walking the Way to Health” initiative