The role of local governments in creating supportive environments for physical activity

Devine, Susan Gaye (2011) The role of local governments in creating supportive environments for physical activity. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Physical inactivity is a significant public health issue hence developing supportive community and workplace environments to enhance opportunities and motivation for physical activity is a public health priority. Despite international and Australian recommendations that adults should participate in 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week and continuing strong, supportive epidemiological evidence describing a range of health and social benefits for participation in regular moderate intensity physical activity, physical activity rates in many parts of the world continue to decrease. In Australia, in 2000, 57% of the population were sufficiently active for health and in Queensland, in 2003, 55% were sufficiently active for health.

There is some evidence that changes to the physical environment influence physical activity behaviour and from a public health perspective, environmental modification has the potential to increase physical activity at a population level. This is likely to be more effective and sustainable than working at an individual level. Beyond the health sector there are other sectors that have a role in addressing physical inactivity. Local government is one such sector which plays a key role in developing and maintaining physical environments which support physical activity. The research described in this thesis examined the impact of local government initiatives in promoting active lifestyles and increasing physical activity both at a community neighbourhood level and at a workplace level.

Firstly the role of local government at a neighbourhood level is examined through a study that evaluated the impact of recreational environmental modifications (the Riverway project) on the physical activity levels of neighbourhood residents. The Riverway project used a quasi experimental design with a pre and post intervention and comparison group. The intervention group comprised people residing within 1.5kms of the modified environment (Riverway complex) and the overall redevelopment that extends 5kms from the Riverway complex and is referred to as the Riverway precinct. The comparison group comprised residents outside the 1.5km area. The modification consisted of construction of swimming lagoons, a cultural centre and grassed outdoor amphitheatre, river edge development including boardwalks, decks, bridges, picnic facilities and playgrounds and upgrade of and landscaping around existing paths along the river which stretched for 5 kms. Data collection included a postal survey, observation study and Global Information System data. While there was no significant increase in the percentage of respondents sufficiently active for health post intervention, there were positive associations between environmental change and perceptions of the environment and usage of modified areas. Participants were significantly less likely to state that there was a lack of a pleasant environment in which to be active in 2006 compared to 2004. There was a significant increase in path use by participants in the intervention group in 2006 compared to the comparison group and significantly more participants from the intervention group walked to the paths and used the paths for walking compared to the comparison group. Participants who use any of the paths along the river were significantly more likely to be sufficiently active for health. Global Information System data showed that in 2006, participants who used the Riverway complex lived significantly closer than those who did not use the complex. These same patterns were observed in relation to those who walked to the 5 kms of modified areas (the Riverway precinct), with those residents living closer to the modified areas being more likely to walk to these areas.

The workplace component of the thesis consisted of three consecutive studies conducted with employees from a local government organisation. There were 340 employees in this organisation all of whom were invited to participate.

The first study used a qualitative approach to explore employee perceptions about the role of the workplace in promoting physical activity. Forty seven employees participated in focus groups and interviews. Results demonstrated that employees were interested and willing to participate in workplace physical activity although perceptions of physical activity need varied between indoor and outdoor employees. Most outdoor employees felt they were active enough in work time and were opposed to workplace physical activity interventions. Despite differences in the indoor and outdoor employee perceptions, there was overall consensus that physical activity in the workplace was an important health priority and that workplace interventions could impact on employee physical activity levels, particularly those engaged in indoor work. Some suggestions of appropriate interventions were made and laid the foundations for the two subsequent studies that were conducted.

In the second study indoor and outdoor local government employees participated in a pedometer study aimed at assessing occupational and leisure time physical activity levels. One hundred and seven participants wore a Yamax Digi-walker (SW 200) pedometer for a one week period after which time they completed the Long Version of the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) to allow a comparison between objective and subjective measures of physical activity. IPAQ results showed that employees working in indoor positions undertook significantly less MET minutes of activity per week (median: 3594.0 METmin/week; IQR = [1982.5, 6265.4]), compared to employees working in outdoor positions (median: 8277.0 METmin/week; IQR = [4818.25, 30813.0]; p<0.001). Pedometer results demonstrated that outdoor employees were significantly more active than indoor employees overall (median: 11987 steps compared to 9832.4 steps; p=0.016), and in work time (median: 5862.6 steps compared to 3282.1 steps; p<0.001), in this workplace setting. There were no significant differences between outdoor and indoor employees in leisure time (median: 5862.6 steps compared to 6594.9 steps; p=0.212). To achieve sufficient levels of activity, outdoor workers still needed to participate in leisure time activity. When comparing sufficient levels of activity, as defined by pedometer and the long version of the IPAQ, there were significant discrepancies. On pedometer assessment, 49% of participants were defined as being sufficiently active for health, compared to 91.9% of participants defined as sufficiently active using the IPAQ.

The third study evaluated a 10,000 steps workplace challenge undertaken by Council employees. Twenty teams participated in the Challenge with a total of 99 participants. The average number of steps taken each day per person was 10803. There was a significant difference when comparing the steps taken at baseline (median: 8766; IQR = [6847, 11252]) compared to those during the Challenge with employees taking more steps during the Challenge (median: 9666; IQR = [8084, 12935]; p = 0.004). At the six month follow up there was no significant difference between the baseline and the follow up step counts (median: 8766; IQR = [6847, 11252] at baseline compared to a median of 9609; IQR = [7644, 11637] at six month follow up; p=0.588).

Addressing physical inactivity requires a comprehensive approach that involves multiple strategies, multiple organisations and approaches that are delivered in multiple settings including the community and workplace setting. The role of local government in supporting physical activity at a community and workplace level is supported by the research described in this thesis. Neighbourhood proximity to recreational areas such as Riverway (parkland, walking trails and paths and other recreational facilities) is an important predictor of neighbourhood usage and local government should be encouraged to develop such areas within local neighbourhoods. At a workplace level, local government employees are interested and willing to participate in workplace physical activity but single interventions such as the 10,000 steps challenge are insufficient to sustain physical activity changes. This further supports the role of environmental change in supporting physical activity, not only at a community environment level but also at a workplace environment level.

Discrepancies as to who is "sufficiently" active can occur depending on the measurement tool used and objective measures such as pedometers are feasible tools to use within workplace settings. Outdoor employees need to be cautious in assuming that work time activity is enough for them to be sufficiently active for health.

Local government organisations can provide an important contribution in enhancing overall population levels of physical activity and good health by supporting community members to be active, through creating supportive environments that are conducive to physical activity, as well as providing opportunities for their own staff to engage in workplace physical activity initiatives.

Item ID: 24355
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: 10,000 Step Workplace Challenge, 10,000 steps, active lifestyles, amenity design, community activity, employee behaviors, employee behaviours, employee exercise, employee mobility, environment, exercise behaviors, exercise behaviours, exercise environments, health promotion, physical activity, motivation, outdoor exercise, park design, public areas, public health, recreation centers, recreation centres, recreation design, recreation facilities, recreational areas, recreational environments, Riverway Precinct (Townsville), settings, Ten Thousand Step Workplace Challenge, ten thousand steps program, Thuringowa City Council, Townsville (Qld), urban parks, urban planning, urban recreation, urban spaces, walking tracks, workplace activity, workplace physical activity
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Additional Information:

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Devine, Susan G., Buettner, Petra G., and Mummery, Kerry (2009) Correlates of adult physical activity participation in the tropics. Journal of Rural and Tropical Public Health, 8 . pp. 30-37.

Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2013 03:51
FoR Codes: 11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111712 Health Promotion @ 70%
12 BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN > 1205 Urban and Regional Planning > 120508 Urban Design @ 30%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920401 Behaviour and Health @ 50%
92 HEALTH > 9202 Health and Support Services > 920205 Health Education and Promotion @ 50%
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