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K. John Fisher, Fuzhong Li, Yvonne Michael and Minot Cleveland

There is a need for greater understanding of setting-specific influences on physical activity to complement the predominant research paradigm of individual-centered influences on physical activity. In this study, the authors used a cross-sectional multilevel analysis to examine a range of neighborhood-level characteristics and the extent to which they were associated with variation in self-reported physical activity among older adults. The sample consisted of 582 community-dwelling residents age 65 years and older (M = 73.99 years, SD = 6.25) recruited from 56 neighborhoods in Portland, OR. Information collected from participants and neighborhood data from objective sources formed a two-level data structure. These hierarchical data (i.e., individuals nested within neighborhoods) were subjected to multilevel structural-equation-modeling analyses. Results showed that neighborhood social cohesion, in conjunction with other neighborhood-level factors, was significantly associated with increased levels of neighborhood physical activity. Overall, neighborhood-level variables jointly accounted for a substantial variation in neighborhood physical activity when controlling for individual-level variables.

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Fuzhong Li, K. John Fisher, Adrian Bauman, Marcia G. Ory, Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, Peter Harmer, Mark Bosworth and Minot Cleveland

Over the past few years, attention has been drawn to the importance of neighborhood influences on physical activity behavior and the need to consider a multilevel analysis involving not only individual-level variables but also social-and physical-environment variables at the neighborhood level in explaining individual differences in physical activity outcomes. This new paradigm raises a series of issues concerning systems of influence observed at different hierarchical levels (e.g., individuals, neighborhoods) and variables that can be defined at each level. This article reviews research literature and discusses substantive, operational, and statistical issues in studies involving multilevel influences on middle-aged and older adults’ physical activity. To encourage multilevel research, the authors propose a model that focuses attention on multiple levels of influence and the interaction among variables characterizing individuals, among variables characterizing neighborhoods, and across both levels. They conclude that a multilevel perspective is needed to increase understanding of the multiple influences on physical activity.