Youth perceptions of how neighborhood physical environment and peers affect physical activity: a focus group study

ObjectiveThere is need for a youth-informed conceptualization of how environmental and social neighborhood contexts influence physical activity. We assessed youths’ perceptions of their neighborhood physical and peer environments as affecting physical activity.
Thirty-three students (20 girls; ages 12-14 years) participated in focus groups about the physical environment and peers within their neighborhoods, and their understanding of how they affect physical activity.
Inductive analysis identified themes of access (e.g., to equipment); aesthetics; physical and social safety; peer proximity and behavior (e.g., bullying); adult support or interference; and adult boundary setting. Participants also identified interconnections among themes, such as traffic shaping parent boundary setting and, in turn, access to physical spaces and peers.
Young adolescents view neighborhoods in ways similar to and different from adults. Examining physical and social environments in tandem, while mindful of how adults shape and youth perceive these environments, may enhance understanding of youth physical activity behavior.