Delineating the geographic context of physical activities : A systematic search and scoping review of the methodological approaches used in social ecological research over two decades

Tiina Rinne*, Anna Kajosaari, Maria Söderholm, Päivi Berg, Arto J. Pesola, Melody Smith, Marketta Kyttä

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Background: The social ecological approach suggests that the spatial context among other factors influence physical activity behavior. Ample research documents physical environmental effects on physical activity. Yet, to date inconsistent associations remain, which might be explained by conceptual and methodological challenges in measuring the spatial dimensions of health behavior. We review methods applied to measure the spatial contexts in the social ecological physical activity literature. Methods: Online databases and selected reviews were used to identify papers published between 1990 and 2020. A total of 2167 records were retrieved, from which 412 studies that used physical activity as a primary outcome variable, included measures of the physical environment and applied the main principles of the social ecological approach, were included. Results: Subjective approaches were the dominant method to capture the spatial context of physical activities. These approaches were applied in 67% (n=279) of the studies. From the objective approaches an administrative unit was most prevalent and was applied in 29% (n=118) of the studies. The most comprehensive objective spatial methods that capture the true environmental exposure, were used only in 2% (n=10) of the studies. Conclusions: Current social ecological physical activity research applies simple conceptualizations and methods of the spatial context. While conceptual and methodological concerns have been repeatedly expressed, no substantive progress has been made in the use of spatial approaches. To further our understanding on place effects on health, future studies should carefully consider the choice of spatial approaches, and their effect on study results.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102737
Number of pages12
JournalHEALTH AND PLACE
Volume73
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal

Keywords

  • Built environment
  • Context
  • Ecological approach
  • Ecological model
  • Health promotion
  • Physical activity
  • Physical environment
  • Place
  • Space

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