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Morgan N. Clennin and Russell R. Pate

Background: Growing evidence suggests that the broader neighborhood socioeconomic environment is independently associated with cardiometabolic health. However, few studies have examined this relationship among younger populations. Purpose: The purpose of the study was to (1) investigate the association between neighborhood socioeconomic deprivation (SED) and cardiorespiratory fitness and (2) determine the extent to which physical activity mediates this relationship. Methods: Data from 312 youth (aged 12–15 y) were obtained from the 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey National Youth Fitness Survey. Cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using a standard submaximal treadmill test, and maximal oxygen consumption was estimated. Physical activity was self-reported time spent in moderate to vigorous activity. Neighborhood SED was measured by a composite index score at the census tract of residence. Logistic regression analyses examined relationships between neighborhood SED, physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness, adjusting for individual-level characteristics and the complex sampling design. Results: Neighborhood SED was not significantly associated with cardiorespiratory fitness or physical activity among youth in the study sample. Conclusions: While not significant, cardiorespiratory fitness levels were observed to decrease as neighborhood SED increased. Future research is needed to better understand this relationship and to identify underlying mechanisms beyond fitness or physical activity that may drive the relationship between neighborhood SED and health.

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Russell R. Pate, Marsha Dowda, Ruth P. Saunders, Natalie Colabianchi, Morgan N. Clennin, Kerry L. Cordan, Geena Militello, Agnes Bucko, Dwayne E. Porter, and Wm. Lynn Shirley

Background: The prevalence of childhood obesity is higher in economically and socially deprived areas. Higher levels of physical activity reduce the risk of excessive weight gain in youth, and research has focused on environmental factors associated with children’s physical activity, though the term “physical activity desert” has not come into wide use. Methods: This exploratory study operationalized the term “physical activity desert” and tested the hypothesis that children living in physical activity deserts would be less physically active than children who do not. A cross-sectional study design was applied with 992 fifth-grade students who had provided objectively measured physical activity data. Five of 12 possible elements of the built environment were selected as descriptors of physical activity deserts, including no commercial facilities, no parks, low play spaces, no cohesion, and the presence of incivilities. Results: Univariate and multivariate analyses showed that only the absence of parks was associated with less physical activity in children. Conclusion: Children living in a “no park” zone were less active than their counterparts who lived near a park. This study contributes preliminary conceptual and operational definitions of “physical activity desert.” Future studies of physical activity deserts should be undertaken in larger and more diverse samples.