Physical Activity Impacts of an Activity-Friendly Community: A Natural Experiment Study Protocol. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Stakeholders from multiple sectors are increasingly aware of the critical need for identifying sustainable interventions that promote healthy lifestyle behaviors. Activity-friendly communities (AFCs) have been known to provide opportunities for engaging in physical activity (PA) across the life course, which is a key to healthy living and healthy aging. PURPOSE: Our purpose is to describe the study protocol developed for a research project that examines: (a) the short- and long-term changes in total levels and spatial and temporal patterns of PA after individuals move from non-AFCs to an AFC; and (b) what built and natural environmental factors lead to changes in PA resulting from such a move, either directly or indirectly (e.g., by affecting psychosocial factors related to PA). METHODS: This protocol is for a longitudinal, case-comparison study utilizing a unique natural experiment opportunity in Austin, Texas, USA. Case participants were those adults who moved from non-AFCs to an AFC. Matching comparison participants were residents from similar non-AFCs who did not move during the study period. Recruitment venues included local businesses, social and print media, community events, and individual referrals. Objectively measured moderate-to-vigorous PA and associated spatial and temporal patterns served as the key outcomes of interest. Independent (e.g., physical environments), confounding (e.g., demographic factors), and mediating variables (e.g., psychosocial factors) were captured using a combination of objective (e.g., GIS, GPS, Tanita scale) and subjective measures (e.g., survey, travel diary). Statistical analyses will be conducted using multiple methods, including difference-in-differences models, repeated-measures linear mixed models, hierarchical marked space-time Poisson point pattern analysis, and hierarchical linear mixed models. CONCLUSION: Natural experiment studies help investigate causal relationships between health and place. However, multiple challenges associated with participant recruitment, extensive and extended data collection activities, and unpredictable intervention schedules have discouraged many researchers from implementing such studies in community-based populations. This detailed study protocol will inform the execution of future studies to explore how AFCs impact population health across the life course.

published proceedings

  • Front Public Health

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhu, X., Ory, M. G., Xu, M., Towne, S. D., Lu, Z., Hammond, T., ... Lee, C.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Zhu, Xuemei||Ory, Marcia G||Xu, Minjie||Towne, Samuel D||Lu, Zhipeng||Hammond, Tracy||Sang, Huiyan||Lightfoot, J Timothy||McKyer, E Lisako J||Lee, Hanwool||Sherman, Ledric D||Lee, Chanam

publication date

  • January 2022