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Basia Belza, Christina E. Miyawaki, Peg Allen, Diane K. King, David X. Marquez, Dina L. Jones, Sarah Janicek, Dori Rosenberg and David R. Brown

Mall walking has been a popular physical activity for decades. However, little is known about why mall managers support these programs or why adults choose to walk. Our study aim was to describe mall walking programs from the perspectives of walkers, managers, and leaders. Twenty-eight walkers, 16 walking program managers, and six walking program leaders from five states participated in a telephone or in-person semi-structured interview (N = 50). Interview guides were developed using a social-ecological model. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed thematically. All informants indicated satisfaction with their program and environmental features. Differences in expectations were noted in that walkers wanted a safe, clean, and social place whereas managers and leaders felt a need to provide programmatic features. Given the favorable walking environments in malls, there is an opportunity for public health professionals, health care organizations, and providers of aging services to partner with malls to promote walking.

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Diane K. King, Peg Allen, Dina L. Jones, David X. Marquez, David R. Brown, Dori Rosenberg, Sarah Janicek, Laila Allen and Basia Belza

Background:

Midlife and older adults use shopping malls for walking, but little research has examined mall characteristics that contribute to their walkability.

Methods:

We used modified versions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)-Healthy Aging Research Network (HAN) Environmental Audit and the System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) tool to systematically observe 443 walkers in 10 shopping malls. We also observed 87 walkers in 6 community-based nonmall/nongym venues where older adults routinely walked for physical activity.

Results:

All venues had public transit stops and accessible parking. All malls and 67% of nonmalls had wayfinding aids, and most venues (81%) had an established circuitous walking route and clean, well-maintained public restrooms (94%). All venues had level floor surfaces, and one-half had benches along the walking route. Venues varied in hours of access, programming, tripping hazards, traffic control near entrances, and lighting.

Conclusions:

Despite diversity in location, size, and purpose, the mall and nonmall venues audited shared numerous environmental features known to promote walking in older adults and few barriers to walking. Future research should consider programmatic features and outreach strategies to expand the use of malls and other suitable public spaces for walking.